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The dangers of being too social

The dangers of being too social

Social networking has some great benefits, but it’s not without its risks – especially if you’re in business.

Filed in Career strategies

We've looked at the benefits of using social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter, but these are not without their risks.

The risks to business

Companies are used to having all aspects of their communications managed. So let's say a company decides it 'needs to be on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter' - perhaps because its competitors are. These communications are much more casual, which isn't necessarily abadthing - although it can be aninappropriatething.

Without a strategy in place (or at least some forethought), the social part of your communications can quickly undermine the formal part. This lack of control and the immediate nature of the medium can result inthe appearanceof your company making a stand on an issue for which it either has no views or even perhaps the opposite views - because of the unguarded reaction of the person managing your media stream. Once it's on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, it can be there for the world to see - and within hours you're at the centre of a media storm.

There are less obvious risks, too. While Twitter is immediate, it can create an unrealistic support expectation - that your company is always available and can always immediately respond to requests for help. If those requests aren't met, then customers with a large following can spread the 'bad news' quickly, whether what they are saying is reasonable or not.

On top of this, most companies don't store any of their social media communications - which can become a legal issue, either because of a problem communication or because the organisation has a record-management compliance obligation.

There's also a security risk - since some of these networks allow the passing of files, or the downloading of files.

While it's understandable that some organisations choose to shun social media for these reasons, it does disadvantage them significantly on one of the most important marketing and communications platforms today.

The risks to individuals

Individuals are exposed to different issues. Back in the day, you went out for a few drinks and had a laugh. What went on in the pub stayed in the pub. Not any more. The next day, the images could be on Facebook and Twitpic, for all the world to see.

What's more, they could be there forever. Just as LinkedIn can provide evidence of your professional qualifications, images, status updates and videos can hang around for a long time, waiting for a prospective employer to stumble over while researching you.

They can also expose your political views - in fact, views on almost any subject, should you choose to share them online.

Employers aren't naive: they expect people to have a social life, enjoy themselves and have fun. But there will be behaviour at which they draw the line - and, in the online world, that behaviour can be a lot more visible than it once was.

We all fall for it

A major problem with social media is that you can connect with people you don't know that well - if at all. You don't think this applies to you? Well, in 2010, a security expert set up a fake persona on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook: a persona which didn't exist and had never, ever, met a real person. The profile on the fake persona had deliberate errors in it - for example, the person was listed as having 10 years' professional experience, despite being only 25. A few photos of a pretty girl sealed the deal and the security expert listed her with degrees from MIT and a preparatory school in New Hampshire. If it really was the case that people don't connect with people they don't know, then this fake persona would have no contacts. What actually happened was that, after attempting to connect with 300 people, the 'fake person' managed to get 226 friends on Facebook, 206 LinkedIn connections and 204 Twitter followers. The most worrying aspect of this was that the connections were all with people in the US military, intelligence agencies, information securities organisations and government. An uptake of approximately two thirds isn't bad when you consider the targeted people should all be security savvy.

If you want to see this kind of thing first-hand, check out the movie Catfish - where a painter thinks he's struck up a romantic relationship with a girl on the other side of the country, via her younger sister. We won't spoil it for you, but the results really do give you food for thought.

Social media is great - and can do wonderful things for companies and individuals. But it's not without risks, which, as professionals, you need to be continuously mindful of.

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