CIO Symmetry

May 24 2012   4:03PM GMT

Should CIOs read their young employees’ social network profiles?

Sarah Blanchette Profile: Sarah Blanchette

Millennials are sometimes referred to as the “Facebook generation,” and for good reason. About 75% of millennials have a social network profile. Comparatively, about half of Generation X and only a third of Baby Boomers report that they have a social network profile of some kind, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center report.

Since so many Millennials have social network profiles, CIOs may believe that spying through online profiles will help them gather useful information on young employees. This begs the question: Is it ethical to spy on employees’ personal profile, or are they entitled to some social network privacy? Furthermore, is the information that CIOs are gathering even an accurate representation of these people?

As a Millennial, I know firsthand how often we are being warned about what we put online. There is no such thing as social network privacy, we are told. We know that anyone from a college admissions officer to a future employer could be looking at our social network profiles at any given time.

Some Millennials listen to the sound advice while others desperately seek out some social network privacy that really doesn’t exist. These Millennials employ the use of privacy settings that make it nearly impossible to be found, but there are even more ways. The more clever users may employ a pseudonym and change the name that appears on their account to make it difficult to be found. Other people make two separate accounts — one for professional purposes and one for fun. The more serious Millennials may deactivate their accounts while looking for jobs, out of fear that future employers will see something that they don’t want seen.

It’s not easy to grow up during the social media revolution. Try to imagine your entire college experience, your entire youth, being captured by cell phones and digital cameras and then plastered online, sometimes so quickly that it happens without your knowledge or consent. If you’re a member of Generation X or the Baby Boomer generation, you used to be able to walk into an interview and make a “real” first impression. Today, employers can simply Google the names of future employees, and by the time applicants arrive for an interview, the employer has already formed opinions about them. My suggestion: Try to give young people today the same fresh start that you were given at their age.

As a last resort, using social media profiles to get to know your Millennials may be beneficial. If there are obvious red flags that send you running in the other direction, don’t feel guilty for acting on that apprehension, as Millennials are very aware that social media information is fair game.

However, CIOs should try to avoid totally basing their opinions on an employee’s social network profile. You’ll find out more about employees by actually talking to them than you would by snooping through their Facebook or Twitter profile.

Sarah Blanchette is a journalism student interning as an editorial assistant at TechTarget.

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