Friday, March 28, 2014

THE DIGITAL DNA OF SOCIAL MEDIA- Are Social Media platforms really as "social" as we believe them to be?

by Emmanuel Kuehn
A majority of articles related to Social Media can seem quite eloquent, particularly when they address issues concerned with promoting our businesses or when we are looking for employment. How many times have you heard or read that Social Media is the "real" revolution of this century?

I too agree with the above statement, and even consciously coach many CEOs and the members of their organisations on the most effective strategies to follow to "get out" their messages. All social media and networking platforms have rules, etiquette, and protocol. To transgress the rules will leave a bad impression and could even damage your CRM and/ or corporate brand.

Despite my positive view of these media channels and their impact, I do hold reservations. Let me take a few moments of your time to explain.

The first concerns the "Wild West" atmosphere and the relatively recent explosion of Social Media. The Internet literally can give anyone willing to spend the time a platform to voice his or her opinion or expertise online. While some of us are lessening the impact of our "carbon" footprint many have already left a deep "web footprint".

A web footprint comprises the posting of CVs, shared personal photographs, personal life stories some mundane others more dramatic, and even their credit card details when making purchases online. You name it, and there is a platform for shared views. It is as if we feel a "social" need to express our identity to verify that we exist.

I can already here some in the audience say, "Get with it! Everyone uses the Internet today whether SMS and email. This is the technology and innovation of our time. Use it or be left behind." Although this is true, caution must be exercised when concerning the transmission of sensitive data so it is not pirated or used for criminal purposes.

Oddly enough although we recognise these facts, there are many people still naïve enough to believe that the Internet and social networks are harmless. What you put up online can come back to haunt you. Do you remember the case of one gentleman, who had posted certain details online via Facebook only to later discover that the information was damaging his professional "brand"?

It took this fellow 3 years to get Facebook to agree to delete his account after an intense and fierce legal battle. When you delete online information, there is no guarantee that it is really deleted. Even if you control the information you post online this does not stop malicious parties for trying to destroy your reputation.

Regarding the information we sow on the web is one thing, but what someone else might sow for us is another. How many people post pictures of themselves and friends online and trade in gossip? The issue appears quite common and harmless since this is the "favoured" way most people communicate today in both professional and non-professional contexts.

This is where problems begin. No one can control what friends write about us.

What about your enemies?

The classic example involves the famous "lost weekend" in Barcelona or a recent party in which we may have relaxed a bit more than usual. Friends inevitably comment on the photos and leave their witticisms. You can always delete unflattering comments made on your Facebook account, but not the bits posted on other accounts. You can see the dilemma.

People who are jealous of you or do not like you to be polite, can really do you a great deal of harm. For example in one of the networks to which I participate, a man discovered that his partner had been unfaithful. Besotted with rage, he decided to take revenge and wrote a long story about his wife and her private life. Since his motive was to inflict pain, he made the details poignant and posted the article across the web on key blogs. Everyone who knew these people read the article. The woman involved suffered a severe depression as a result as well as loosing her professional credibility. She had become "damaged" goods in the eyes of many. I won't bore you with the ethical ramifications of taking such action, but it is quite clear of the impact and negative results generated.

In my view, the above case represents a form of "digital criminality" against someone. Corporations can also suffer similar fates from disgruntled and frustrated employees. No firm wants to see private and sensitive information concerning their activities disclosed to a broad public without board consent. How can we avoid this?

There is a real issue of ethics and integrity. Although the web is open to all, and we have the freedom of written expression, we also should exercise discretion in accordance to rules. You wouldn't yell "fire" in a crowded theatre? The Internet equivalent would have similar repercussions.

Our digital DNA online must be controlled. If we do not exercise discretion, others will do this for us or governments will find a way to limit our freedoms with legal regulations and consequences for abuse. Currently, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others have no rules and thus, the door is wide open for abuse and slander.

A key question to consider: How private is our life if we make personal information available to a wide public online?

Facebook for example, has come under increased criticism for selling our "details" to various companies. Even Google shows the most minute information concerning where we live via their Google maps. Every dwelling on a street can be gleaned including passageways and gardens. Therefore, you must recognise that anything you put online is no longer private. It is now in the public domain.

The digital universe has transformed our world and the way we interpret and gather information. Social Media has played a key and pivotal role in this transformation. Either current or future employers will use the social media to gain access to your profile and any other information you have posted about yourself online. The only way to maintain any privacy is through direct control and communications management. You must learn how to protect your "personal" as well as your "professional" brand. Otherwise, be prepared for "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". Risk management control should be fundamental to your social media use.

As a conscientious professional, I handle my own communications management. I do use and approve of controlled social media use. My private life however, is private. So should yours be. The DNA rules of social media use are unwritten. The rules apply to the young and unwary as well as to the seasoned professional. Act in good faith. Filter the information you use, post, and comment. Ethics and integrity do matter. Although you may not be able to prevent what some else may write at least you can be vigilant on what you write and post online.

Do not accidentally shoot yourself in the foot. So, what should you do?

First, take the time to be consistent. Make sure that your profile on Facebook or the tweets you send do not damage your professional "brand" on Linkedin. As a coach, my advice to CEOs and Marketing Managers is that the best communication strategy for using Social Media starts with your self. Forget the "lost weekend" photo shoots.

Recently in the Netherlands, some high-profiled people have lost their functions due to casual racist remarks posted on Twitter. Remember, there are professional and law enforcement people "patrolling" the web. Take good care of your "web" footprint
There is a French proverb, which states: ''Vivre heureux, vivre caché".

Considering today's discussion, I will leave you with one more idea to contemplate:

Are Social Media platforms really as "social" as we believe them to be?

About The Author

Emmanuel Kuehn is a Management Consultant, Business Coach & Trainer for both corporate organizations and individuals.

Business Is A Matter Of People
Emmanuel Kuehn | WisePoint B.V.