Not-So-Private Lives

Ah! There you are. Come in, come in – do close the door, there’s a good reader. Now, I imagine you’ve been wondering why I sent for you. You see, something is troubling me and – unsurprisingly – it’s a something not wholly unrelated to Big Social. It’s message control, reader mine, and how one manages to maintain it.

I’m talking from a corporate viewpoint, obviously – as far as personal use of social goes, well, how you present yourself is unfortunately up to the individual selfing, trolling, lolling halfwit. I sometimes feel there should be a Ministry of Social, to protect – by force if necessary – the limp-brained feeble buffoons who believe it a good idea to share pictures of themselves sleeping in a nice pool of sick – however recruits to the Ministry would likely be deeply into sharing content and unnorming privacy and it’s jackboots we need, not Crocs.

Recently, I drew up a corporate Use of Social Media policy (bear with me – sounds dull, is important) not because I wish to stop people using social media (actually, I do, but that’s just me) but because I wanted to highlight the possible pitfalls of confusing professional and personal, provide some examples of good and bad practice and spell out potential consequences. One could just block Facebook and Twitter at work (and some do) but a) it seems a bit Draconian (I’m getting soft in my dotage) b) hands up who’s got a smartphone? and c) just wait ‘til they get home.

There’ll be some, I know, who will be outraged at the lack of trust this displays and others who will maintain that employees should be actively encouraged to use social media to promote their companies, organisations and brands.

Thing is – like it or not – social media are communications tools. As already stated – how the individual manages the communication of their personal brand is no business of mine. (The Ministry of Social – like Robocop. But with an attitude.) But communication of corporate brand messages is best left to the professionals. It is not by chance that people make a living out of being professional communicators, nor is the old belief that ‘anyone can do PR’ actually true. In fact, even in the PR industry itself, there is a high number of people who can’t do PR. Why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of an amateur?

Unfortunately, this is exactly what a lot of organisations seem to be doing. I do not have time, or the will, to go into the differences in attitude between public and private sector – suffice it to say that not so long ago I was exposed to a woeful display of social media usage that seemed wholly predicated on the argument ‘I can, so therefore I will’. When questioned further, the answer became ‘people have a right know’. No. Actually – and close your ears those of delicate disposition – people do not always have a right to know. Ask the CIA.

So back to my policy. It went down fine. Most people seemed to understand what it was trying to do. I wasn’t chased down the street with flaming torches and spades. But then I get an email – from an IT security consultant, strangely enough – enquiring whether I’d taken the Human Rights Act of 1998 into account, specifically regarding a right to privacy.

Ooooh, Alanis. (For you, my young reader, that’s Alanis Nadine Morissette, Canadian songstrel.) So, privacy is no longer the norm (according to the Zuckerberg) and anyone can, and does, post anything. Social media are free and all but unregulated – and that freedom is defended vigorously.

But try and establish some right of redress should an employee bring your organisation into disrepute via social and – oh yes – you could be breaching their human right to privacy. A right which the social media world gives away freely, every single day.

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