About this article
In about April I got a phone call asking me if I could write an article very quickly for the CFO Software guide of 2008. This guide is produced in association with CPA Australia every year, and every so often the Information Technology & Management Centre of Excellence writes an editorial piece related to the topic of the moment (usually). This time, though, because it was very short notice (I believe the phrase ’10am tomorrow?’ was used), I got to draw a fairly loose association with the topic. I wanted to write something a little different to the normal business article – although a good and serious article is excellent, it doesn’t achieve much if it is never read, in my view.
So as a result, I wrote an article on the topic of social networking, and called it ‘business socialism’ – it was subsequently retitled to ‘Social security’. In an edition where the companion articles are fairly business-focused, my article probably has, as was described in unsolicited feedback, as a ‘tone’. The Editor’s Letter for this edition notes that the theme of social software and tapping into the wisdom of crowds ‘is picked up enthusiastically by Micheal Axelsen, the chairman of the Information Technology and Management Centre of Excellence for CPA Australia, in his opinion piece’.
I’m going to take that feedback as positive feedback. I reproduce the article below as I submitted it, together with an attached scanned copy of the magazine. If you think you may be the person who has their photograph in FaceBook giving a Nazi salute, perhaps drop me a line on my email.
Oh, and thanks to Jenny for being very sporting about the fame of her cat, Stitch.
Once, â€˜friendsâ€™ were people that you met regularly. Friends went to the movies together. Friends may occasionally have had one beer too many and woke up together on a park bench. Sometimes friends were workmates. Sometimes they were actually your significant otherâ€™s friends. You and your friends drifted apart when you changed jobs (or your significant other).
Today, the world is very, very different. The circle of friends expands and grows. Friends that move away can be â€˜followedâ€™ with social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace. Because of Facebook, I know that a former colleague has just received a kitten called Stitch. A cute cat, but I have not met that colleague in eight years.
Today, people are Facebooked, MySpaced, and LinkedIn. They Flickr and Twitter and Qik. People blog and they YouTube.
Todayâ€™s workforce talks over the internet in myriad ways, at all times and at all opportunities. The line between â€˜workâ€™ and â€˜leisureâ€™ has become very blurred. Social networking sites can have a real business impact.
Social networking is positive in several ways. For example, searching on a candidateâ€™s name will provide more background than a resume ever will. A footprint on the internet will exist somewhere. Potential employers can be better informed about the candidate. The same approach can be used for prospective suppliers of products or services to the business.
Candidates or suppliers with personal photographs in the Facebook group â€˜embarrassing party photosâ€™ may not like this. However, it is not only the young that can have unsavoury photos appear online. At least one Facebook user has shown poor professional judgment by posting a photo of their employerâ€™s grey-haired managing director giving a Nazi salute. The poor fellow probably doesnâ€™t know it exists.
A scan of blogs and other online tools for qualified candidates expressing frustration about their current job may be helpful when recruiting. Head hunting to fill specialist roles can be much easier in this digital world.
On the other hand though, customers with bad experiences services will likely retell their story on the internet. Todayâ€™s mobile technologies allow this to occur before the customer has even left the store. Many prospective customers today will perform a search on the business. These customers tend to believe an anonymous internet posting in preference to any information contained in a marketing brochure.
Employeesâ€™ activities â€˜out of hoursâ€™ can also have an impact. The legal liability is at best murky when an employee stalks another employee using social networking tools. When businesses request employees to put their details on MySpace or Facebook as part of a staff recruitment drive, a legal problem may arise very quickly if an employee is stalked, attacked or has their identity stolen using this information.
Likewise, LinkedIn is a popular social networking site for professionals. This website provides a â€˜newsfeedâ€™ of the events occurring in your network of contacts. Secrets can be inadvertently given away by staff members setting their LinkedIn status to (for example): â€˜Micheal Axelsen is developing a proposal for Can-Do Technologiesâ€™. LinkedIn also allows a contact to see their contactâ€™s contacts, which can give an interesting insight into that contactâ€™s marketing activities.
Business should respond in some way. In 2008, the CPA Australia Information Technology & Management Centre of Excellence is writing a guide for business with appropriate policies to adopt for social networking. At the least, we encourage businesses to understand their â€˜internet footprintâ€™. A regular search upon the business name, the names of key products, and the senior management team is essential, with Google Alerts a good tool that can alert you to such new content.
Staff should also be aware of the risks and issues for the business and their career when posting information online. At least one Facebook user has been astonished to see photographs of her in an inebriated state. She is desperately trying to get these â€˜friends of friendsâ€™ to delete the photographs.
The social networking phenomenon is here to stay and will continue to grow. Businesses should review the impact of social networking on their business. There is a need to communicate to all staff the types of appropriate behaviour and content when living out their digital life. Businesses should monitor their â€˜internet footprintâ€™ and plan a response when the business is mentioned online. â€˜Banningâ€™ social networking is unlikely to be helpful for a company. A sensible and informed approach is important, with an awareness of the potential risks and problems.
Social networking: sometimes, itâ€™s about business. And we mean business.