Employers, Beware of Twitter Trouble!

Chances are you’ve tried your hand at tweeting, texting or social networking. But have you ever stopped to consider the possible repercussions your posts may have?

You’re probably thinking, “How could something as insignificant as an offhand remark in a tweet have a tangible impact on anything?”

After all, a recent white paper by Pear Analytics revealed that roughly 40 percent of all tweets are “pointless babble.”

Well, even the most innocent or mindless posts are capable of generating a backlash of sorts, as evidenced by the growing trend of corporate foot-in-the-mouth syndrome.

In fact, employers across the United States have been taking the heat for careless comments that employees didn’t think twice to post online — and this can sometimes lead not just to embarrassment but also to a noteworthy impact on a company’s bottom line.

I recently read an article in BusinessWeek that described the fine line that companies tread between maximizing the usage of social networks for productive, work-related purposes and monitoring employees’ online messaging to ensure that well-intended posts remain harmless.

Take, for instance, an airline employee who went online to vent about a passenger and threw in a joke or two about faulty jet engines on a plane. The individual’s employer didn’t find these comments funny in the least. Even the slightest amount of bad publicity is likely to cause panic among fliers, which in turn is detrimental to the airline business. The company fired the employee.

In another instance, an employee at a technology company reportedly formed an unauthorized chat room to talk in real time about the company’s earnings call — a move that raised a big red flag to company insiders and even triggered immediate response from a crisis management team.

Then, of course, there are simply thoughtless comments, such as PR professional announcing to the world that she would “die” if she had to live in a client’s hometown. Classic foot-in-the-mouth moment!

It’s hard to believe that some of the aforementioned events aren’t fabricated. And this is becoming quite an uphill battle from the perspective of employers.

Embarrassment is one thing — and one could argue a company’s public image can be restored with some damage control — but it’s a totally different story if employees are inadvertently revealing trade secrets or disclosing critical corporate data via electronic mediums much to the chagrin of their employers (that is, if they ever find out about it).

A Computerworld article on this topic cited a Proofpoint Inc. study that revealed how a growing number of executives are becoming wary of their employees unintentionally leaking confidential data in their day-to-day correspondence using tools such as e-mails, social networks and blogs.

The study showed that just in the past year, a third of companies that were surveyed ran into trouble because employees leaked sensitive or embarrassing information through social networking sites, whereas nearly half of respondents said they were concerned about similar occurrences unfolding in the workplace.

It’s for this reason that organizations such as the United States Marine Corps currently forbid individuals from making use of social networking sites on military networks.

So, how does one discern when a tweet, post or electronic message could get out of control? I suppose almost every little snippet of information individuals release into cyberspace has the potential to come back to haunt the user in one way or another.
For example, even something as simple as an employee expressing concerns that there may be layoffs at the company could snowball and have a bottom-line impact, an expert stated in the article.

Many employers have implemented policies and guidelines for those who wish to exploit social networking tools. Others simply rely heavily on employees to employ some degree of common sense, discernment and caution prior to disseminating what’s on their minds, which, as we all know, can be quite a gamble.

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Deanna Hartley

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Posted in Opinion|

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