Social Media and Me – Protecting your Reputation

July 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Social Networks | Leave a comment
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A Cautionary Tale

Imagine yourself in the final interview for your dream job and the interviewer says “We googled you …”.  If you heard those words, how would you feel?  What might they have found?  In recent posts, I’ve looked at how I use a WordPress blog to pass on information around my speciality (and show case my expertise into the bargain I hope) and how to build a network of contacts across a number of social networks and then use that to cultivate communities of interest and spark discussions.  In this post, I want to take a look at the potential for self-inflicted damage to your reputation, as a result of what you say on those social networks.

Anyway, back to the story.  In a famous case study, published in Harvard Business Review in June 2007, the CEO of a luxury clothes manufacturer is encouraged to interview the daughter of an old school friend for a prestige and high-profile post heading the company’s new store in Shanghai.  The interview goes exceptionally well, but then a routine search on Google by the company’s HR department turns up stories of the girl’s involvement in anti-Chinese demonstrations during her youth.  So, the CEO faces a dilemma – does he recruit the rising star and hope that her past doesn’t come to light or does he act to avoid damage to the company’s reputation in an important (and easily offended) lucrative new market.  To read the case study, you’ll have to buy it but you can read a sample of the debate that raged after the story was published.  The debate highlights how easily online users, especially the young, give up information about themselves.  But, do they understand that, once you click “Submit” something that seemed funny after an alcoholic night out can be read in the cold light of day for ever.

Giving Away Personal Information

As we navigate our way through the new world of social media, the information we reveal can be classified under a number of headings:

  • Service information – the minimum amount of information you have to disclose to a site or service owner to create an account and/or profile
  • Disclosed Information – the information you reveal about yourself by posting on your own pages
  • Entrusted information – the information you reveal about yourself by posting on someone else’s pages
  • Incidental information – the information about yourself (accurate or not) posted by someone else
  • Behavioural information – the information about your habits and preferences, collected by site or service owners and (potentially) sold to others.

Update 14/08/10: This classification of social media data was presented by Bruce Schneier at the Internet Governance Forum in November 2009.

    Controlling Your Privacy

    When you look at it like that, it’s easy to see why you need to take care over who sees and has access to your profile information, but do you really know?  When we talk about privacy, most of us really mean secrecy.  Actually, we should mean control – control over who sees what.  I don’t intend to single out Facebook, but there’s been much discussion over recent months on the site’s privacy policy and associated user settings.  The site has made a number of changes, but hasn’t always communicated clearly to users what those changes are and what the default (ie. “do nothing”) settings are.  However, you can get help on this for free, courtesy of Reputation Defender.  They have provided a simple, but effective solution to visualising your current security settings and changing them to what you feel is right for you.  You can read more about PrivacyDefender, the Facebook app that implements this in their FAQs and you can install the app by visiting the PrivacyDefender Facebook page.  The graphical representation is very helpful.  Consider this:

    • My contacts are on my list because I know them, I’ve met them or I’ve had dealings with them.  If this isn’t true for you, then you really need to rethink your strategy around these social networks.
    • I trust my contacts to exercise good judgement in choosing their contacts.  Beyond this second degree of my network, I have no basis on which to judge people.

    Is Anyone Listening?

    It seems to be an accepted fact that most blogs are destined to be abandoned after a short period of time.   I was saddened to see that this fate has befallen at least two of the blogs on my blog roll.  The same is probably true of Twitter accounts and many other social network profiles.  I read somewhere (if you’re the author of this quote, my apologies – let me know and I’ll update the post) that success on Twitter can be defined as having at least 100 followers.  There’s plenty of publicity about how the most popular denizens of the Twitterverse have tens of thousands of   followers, so I find that suggestion quite hard to believe.  At least with Twitter though, you can get some sort of objective measure of the influence you have through your tweets.  Twitalyzer collects details of your Twitter activity and uses it to give an indication of engagement (users you mention and users that mention you), impact (combination of followers, number of posts, retweets and retweeting others and more) and many others.  It’s free – all you need to do is sign in with your Twitter credentials and take a look.

    Mixing Business with Pleasure

    I mentioned in my previous post on how I built my network of contacts that, with a few exceptions, there’s no overlap between my business contacts (largely in LinkedIn) and my family and friends (in Facebook).  This is quite deliberate.  For a start, my family and friends have little or no interest in the arcane details of my specialisation.  Similarly, my business contacts don’t want or need to know about my activities outside work.  Conversations between family members and friends (on Facebook and in the real world) can get heated, boisterous, detached from reality amongst other things.  Look back through your friend feed on Facebook and make a note of the comments you wouldn’t want your work colleagues (or more particularly, a new business contact) to read.  So, keep the two groups separate on the separate networks and think carefully before you post updates to both.  That way, your reputation will be safe, right?  Well, maybe not quite as safe as you’d think.

    Microsoft have been running a beta programme for the Outlook Social Connector.  This new component (available for Outlook 2007 and 2010) adds a “People Pane”, which adds a communications  history for each person, not just within Outlook but also through the Social Connector and its plug-ins, on other networks.  Thus far, plug-ins are available for LinkedIn and MySpace.  Facebook and Twitter are planned for the near future.

    Update 13/07/10

    Microsoft announced today new plug-ins for the Outlook Social Connector to support both Facebook and Microsoft Live Messenger.  I’ve downloaded and installed the Facebook provider (it needs the latest version of OSC, but it’ll download and install it for you) and it works fine.  You can find a review of Microsoft’s announcement on Mashable and you can download the new provider from Microsoft.

    But, you don’t even have to wait.  You can download XOBNI (that’s “Inbox” spelt backwards in case you were wondering) for free right now.  This add-in for Outlook has connectors for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Xing.  It can find information on your contact’s employer through Hoovers and even connect to sales information in Salesforce.com!  It proactively uses your account on these networks to go off and search for your contact, trying to match all available email addresses and telephone numbers to offer possible matches.

    To See Ourselves as Others See Us

    (with apologies to Robert Burns)  So, to summarise, whatever you post, in anger, in haste or after a few beers, stays out there for ever.  You can be sure that in our business lives, as we meet people for the first time, as prospective employers, employees, customers or suppliers, increasingly, they’re going to say…

    “We googled you”

    … and if they do, will they find the carefully crafted profile on LinkedIn, with a photo in a sober business suit – or will they find a Facebook update of a drunken stag weekend in Amsterdam, complete with a picture in a clown costume and a pink wig!  Think before you click <Submit>.

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