When Business & Social don't mix (or when it's time to put the gadget down)

Blogging has become a corporate phenomenon and no longer cutting edge. Today many companies maintain strict policies over who can blog and what can be said on blogs, both personal and corporate. It's not a bad idea and it's one that I advocated when blogging was first going mainstream. I'm quite proud that I helped launch the first tech industry blogs at Jupiter Research in 2002. Today, though, it's more than just blogs, it's the rise of social media in general at the office that's causing concern and users with devices that can tap into them at will. It seems every week I read the same story being told: someone else getting on the bandwagon and telling the potential horror tale of user using social networks at work accessed on some unsanctioned mobile gadget.

[Image credit Tom Sundström]

Whether it's a security threat, fear of libel or just worries over productivity time it seems more and more places are making efforts to lock down sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter from their users. Smart users, though, won't need those rules: they know when not to mix business and personal.

The idea of locking down particular websites isn't new; filters for adult content and games have been around almost as long as corporate internet access. The thing is, I'm not sure it matters that much anymore. At a time when more users are carrying their personal PCs in their pockets (we call them phones but let's be clear, that's just a clever euphemism at this point) preventing someone from accessing Facebook.com on their corporate PC just means they need to reach for pocket or purse and fire up their favorite app. This has ramifications for users and their IT folks.

For users, it means that even if you're not posting from a corporate Twitter account, Facebook page or LinkedIn profile, don't think that's going to protect you if you say something inappropriate. Fun exercise. Search Facebook for the phrase "my stupid boss". You'd be amazed at what comes back at you. If you are posting at work, about work or even just putting yourself out there remember "Once It's Out There, It's Out There." When it comes to social networks and work related topics, it's a case where discretion truly is the better part of valor. While it's hard to imagine, as soon as you hit "share" millions of people all over the world have the potential to see your words.

That's the power of the network but it also means your words are out there and they're going to last a long time. Thanks to caching there's almost no such thing as a do over and if you make a mistake, you're only going to be able to apologize at best and move on. Just as the CNN reporter who expressed in her Twitter feed her respect for a Hamas leader later had to find a new job, so might you. While it's hard to condense complex political discussions into a 140 characters, when you try – and when it's your job and credibility on the line – even a longer, in-context explanation won't save you afterwards. You never know who is going to be reading your Twitter feed, Facebook profile or the other social breadcrumbs you leave behind, and there's no way to undo whatever damage they may leave in their wake. Forget about your current job, what might your next employer think about your online persona?

For IT folks, it's not about access but education. The real and proper approach is to balance the needs of users to be social along with corporate concerns about public speech that can affect business. Today's IT departments need to work with HR hand in hand to create sane policies and help users understand the importance of their actions and words. Simplistic views like blocking access to a website aren't the answer. Sure, the easy answer is "lock it all down and take it all away". It's also a time-tested failure. The real answers come in policies that make sense along with education, combined with recognizing legitimate user needs. Finally, it's also about common sense and recognizing where business and social don't meet and shouldn't meet for every thought that's desired to be expressed, even if your favorite gadget allows you to do so.

The co-mingling of business and personal information is growing at exponential rates. The old rules of access and policies need to come up to speed with the times, and the responsibility for getting it right lies with both IT, end-users and their gadgets all working together.