While recruiters have been warning employees about being too transparent for some time, managers seem to be the ones who are listening. According to a study by Deloitte, 60 percent of managers believe that businesses have a right to know how employees portray themselves or their companies on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

“While the decision to post videos, pictures, thoughts, experiences and observations is personal, a single act can create far reaching ethical consequences for individuals as well as employers," said Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. "Therefore, it is important for executives to be mindful of the implications of this connected world and to elevate the discussion about the risks associated with it to the highest levels of leadership.”

The percentage is lower among employees but still significant. Forty-seven percent believed those managers might be right. However, that number dropped to 37 percent among workers ages 18-34. Meanwhile, 74 percent of employees do understand that they could damage their employers by their behavior online despite almost absent online policies.

Most employers are not educating employees

27% of employees said their companies talk about leveraging social media.
22% of employees said their companies have formal guidelines for their use.
22% of employees said their leadership team uses social networking to communicate.
17% of employees said their company has a program to monitor and mitigate risks.

So what's the solution? Employers and employees are best served with a strong internal communication plan and a education model that distinguishes personal behavior from professional behavior online. There is a difference, because there is no difference between "real life" and "online" connections.

Some employees, especially those who act as spokespeople, already understand how to successfully blend professional and personal relationships. Most employees, however, do not. As a result, it might be best to encourage two accounts — one that represents the company and one that does not. While there is sure to be some cross over, such cross over is likely to be as limited as real life encounters (which were never held up to the same level of scrutiny).

In some ways, some employers and managers are to blame for the current concern. Just as the survey reveals, there are plenty of companies hoping to leverage their employees personal accounts, but very few seem ready to accept the apparent "bad" with the "good."

The solution is not to create policing policies over employees, but rather to clearly define the difference between personal view and company representation. You know ... remind them to take off their uniforms before entering the bar.

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But how does one distinguish? I like the idea of two accounts although this is prohibited by terms of use on Facebook. Wouldn't the management always have to be concerned that the employees bad Facebook pictures reflect on them? Truthfully they don't with the exception that no one should hide crimes, however won't they always have the expectation that those things reflect on them and thus have a need to monitor?
Chad,

I know several people with two accounts (some later dropped their professional one), one used for business and another used for personal. My understanding is that Facebook's policy says "You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission." They haven't had a problem because the content is still real; there is no fraud or any attempt to beguile or spam people.

In some cases, the pressure points almost seem the opposite. We've had several clients complain that when projects go out to bid, venders search for them and then bombard them with connection requests. We then remind them that they are not obligated to friend anyone, especially personal accounts. In other case, I remember someone I follow being professionally threatened for their politics even though they had a personal account and never talked about where they worked, specifically.

Just recently, we created and managed a "team account" for independent movie release because the people I connect to on Facebook would have been bored to death reading too much about the movie. While there is some cross over, the demographics and content are largely different. (Enough so that when I did mention I had two tickets for the premiere in Los Angeles on my personal/professional Twitter account, which gets pick by Facebook too, not one person responded.)

Of course, I never intended my account, which is a dual professional/personal account, to market a movie. And while I mentioned it now and again as it applied to me personally; I never engaged in conversations to the extent that the team account did, which is only about that movie (whether I was managing or someone on staff).

In terms of bad behavior or perhaps simply behavior that doesn't convey a company image (eg. someone with a tattoo, even though that has become more acceptable), companies have always been concerned to some degree. However, they seem to be even more concerned now because of the potential for mass exposure. The reality is that they always had the potential for exposure. Employees have always been the biggest distractors and/or ambassadors for a company. Nothing has changed.

To your first and last point, I really think of this in terms of teaching employees the difference between transparency and authenticity, especially if the account is used for professional purposes. Authenticity might mean sharing that you went to a club; transparency is talking about how you drank too much and danced on the bar. One might be suited for a professional account while the other is best kept among friends. Conversely, authenticity might mean sharing how busy you are for a day; transparency would include you fell behind because your boss doesn't know what they are doing.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that companies don't communicate with their employees enough. When I teach, I often use an example of two different utilities and how they handled rate case increases. One communicated to employees first; the other communicated to the media first (and inaccurately). The first found community allies when the employees went home and communicated with neighbors (as they always have); the second caused their employees hardship because the public was angry and they knew even less than their neighbors, resulting in morale problems and an internal crisis inside the company.

So the solution, while different from companies might be used to, is to communicate with employees first; and to help draw those distinctions between personal views and professional responsibilities. If the employee cannot distinguish the two, then the best course for the company is ask those employees to refrain from talking about their companies, specifically, on personal accounts for their own right to privacy.

I think its fine for companies to monitor what is being said about them (we even provide the service), but it's another thing all together to monitor what employees say about everything 'except' the company. In many cases, it's not even ethical.

Best,
Rich

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