We’ve all heard about the benefits of using social media in the enterprise: Brands are enhanced, customers engaged, employees connected. But as summer nears its end, let’s gather around the blogfire to recount a few scary stories about social media risks for the enterprise. These come by way of a panel on said topic that I attended at the Catalyst conference in July. (A month ago is a million years in IT reporter time, so I am not going to try to sort out who said what. See Social Media & Enterprise 2.0 Risks for the names of the panelists.)
The point of the panel’s stories was eerily similar: The big advantage and biggest risk of using social media in the enterprise is that the boundaries of the workplace are dissolving.
Boundaries are dissolving, but social media tools do not, as yet, come with flashing red lights to warn people that they are crossing from one territory to the other, from the private to the public domain. What’s so scary about that?
Well, one panelist said, let’s say you frequent a website in your off-hours that you would never interact with while you are at work, and that website company goes bankrupt. It files for Chapter 7 — all its assets sold off in a fire sale. No big deal? In the recent case of a Canadian company that ran a sexually explicit website, the court apparently decided that the names and addresses of its subscribers constituted an asset and were up for sale.
Even savvy social media experts can find themselves in deep digital voodoo. Consider the case of James Andrews, an executive with the global PR firm Ketchum, who was meeting with FedEx, a major client, at the logistics company’s headquarters in Memphis to talk about social media communication. Upon landing, he tweeted that Memphis was one of those places that he’d rather die than have to live in. The tweet was picked up by a FedEx employee and whisked up the command chain of both companies, giving Ketchum a PR headache of its own. (Andrews became notorious in the social media blogosphere as a poster child for what not to tweet, earning his his own Wikipedia page.)
Even LinkedIn, seen by many companies as a benign form of communication, poses social media risks. Competitive intelligence groups (aka corporate spies) apparently love scouring the LinkedIn profiles of their competitors’ employees, because they find the recommendations and skills listed are often a treasure map to what those companies are doing internally.
Then there is internal corporate espionage to consider. All the tagging, linking, favoring and so forth that connect entities to entities in a company, form a network ripe for analyzing. The map can tell the CEO that Sales really doesn’t talk to Marketing, or that a group in the company that shouldn’t be communicating with another group actually talks to that group quite often. Or who’s really in the inner circle.
We live in an archival society, pointed out one sage panelist. Once upon a time, “dust to dust” had real meaning for all but the most illustrious of lives. Not so anymore. Those of us reading stuff like this are generating a record that almost certainly will haunt us in the near future and will be the ghost of us after we’re gone.