Social media and the corporate dilemma

It’s a common moan- “my company won’t let me access Facebook/Twitter/You Tube at work“. The work/life balance debate rages but is deepening as employers explore the corporate risk of what their employees are typing.  This corporate risk  endangers a  company’s reputation and in extreme cases  the company’s ability to trade.

While all businesses can be exposed to rogue employees overstepping the line, problems are most likely to occur within highly regulated sectors- such as Financial Services. The rules governing financial promotions laid down by the FSA extend to the promotion of products and services via social media- there is no “new technology” exemption.

The explosion of interest among financial services practitioners in on-line forums and particularly in Linked-in makes it almost impossible for compliance and marketing teams to control the content being wafted through the blogosphere. When “in my opinion” is interpreted as “in our opinion”, the corporate reputation is on the line and when “our opinion” is interpreted as a “financial promotion”, the corporate regulatory status is on the line.

Take as an example Linked-in. While Linked-in is not a transactional site, it is intended to stimulate non-line activity- interaction that leads to transactions. Most of us are used to being recorded when using company telephone lines where we leave a compliance footprint. However our  footprint if we actively engage in on-line forums is as indelible and considerably more visible. If you use Linked-in, look at the “my recent activity” box on your profile.

Learning the rules of on-line etiquette is a first step but your fully understanding the rules that govern B2B on-line relationships is what most matters to your boss. Not just your reputation but the reputations of your colleagues and perhaps shareholders are at stake. Managing the transition from “I” to “We” is no easy thing. especially when there are no written rules!

The corporate dilemma is deeper than whether to ban social media from the workplace- it is how to control employee behaviours. The challenge of controlling risks where the risk-controllers are in unchartered waters cold prove too great leading to social media exclusion or job exclusion (the sack). The risk for those using social media at work is that even with the best of intentions, social media can get you into trouble. The best way of managing that risk is to ask for help. Specifically ask your compliance team to review your activities and give you guidance.

Inappropriate behaviors can take many forms- most of the unwitting. The speed of social media publication is such that errors will creep in. Last week I thought I tweeted that I was “using linked-in” only to be told I had actually told the world I was “suing linked in”. Lesson learned- think before you text as your company cannot and should not expect anything less than perfection.

Compliance people are doubly scared because they are not naturally social media mavens . Their antipathy to social media may be amplified by inexperience. It is no use saying “they don’t get it“. It is up to you to help them to get it. When they  know what you are up to, they may initially adopt heavy-handed tactics. This is natural. In my experience light-touch regulation is born out of confidence but there may be “hump” of heavy-handed regulation or “tough love” that is a part of the process.

As corporates catch up with the activities of their staff , there will be pain and frustration on both sides. Toys will be thrown..there will be blood! You need to be aware of the corporate dilemma and help manage the process of employer buy-in if you are not to become a casualty.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Social media and the corporate dilemma

  1. Vijesh says:

    Interesting post.
    You might also find the following worth reading:

    “are companies ready for technology democracy?” http://twitter.com/vijesh/status/4574381577

    “does business understand technology any more?”
    http://twitter.com/vijesh/status/5539861684

  2. Joe Juris says:

    I agree with a lot of what youre saying here but it could do with more detail. – That’s what’s cool about working with computers. They don’t argue, they remember everything and they don’t drink all your beer. Attributed to Paul Leary

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