The recent press coverage of Paris Brown and a Sergeant from the Metropolitan police who spoke ill of the late Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, have highlighted in rather stark terms the negative effect social media can have for individuals and their employers. In the case of Miss Brown, I’m sure many will be aware, that this particular case saw a young woman in a prominent position make some very frank admissions on twitter. I think it’s fair to say she wasn’t representing her employer when she gave her opinion on certain issues. The police officer on the other hand gave a blunt opinion about Margaret Thatcher. Whilst it seems some across the UK may have been sympathetic to his opinion, his employer was not pleased and he jumped before he was pushed (so to speak).
What does all of this mean? Certainly it’s another opportunity for us HR types to remind everyone about the adverse consequences social media posts can have on the work place. The Paris Brown case in particular shows that what you publish on the internet doesn’t go away. I understand there are currently proposals from the European Commission which would give individuals the "right to be forgotten". In simple terms; the right to have personal data deleted; in particular from the web! I’m sure the late Mrs Thatcher would have an opinion on this latest idea from Europe, but that aside, the pragmatist in me fails to see how this would be technically workable. Then there is the bigger question of freedom of information on the internet and so far the UK government have been lukewarm on the proposal. I could be jumping the gun but I don’t think we will see this come to fruition.
So in the absence of being able to delete this information what are we to do? Are we to judge that Paris Brown is forever tarnished by her actions? I think back to my time as a 17 year old and I’m only glad many of my goings on and thoughts were not public! I’m sure many of us will reflect that we would have been in the same position.
At the very least both cases reinforces the increasing power of social media in our society. Certainly on a practical level, it is a reminder once again about the importance of having a good social media policy in your business. Whether we like it or not, it seems a significant number of people are not guarded when it comes to social media. For some of us this might be hard to believe and we might even be unsympathetic in the face of seemingly stupid actions. However neither Paris Brown nor the police officer are stupid people so it highlights how blasé some people have become.
The Paris Brown case also highlights the generational angle to social media and it goes back to my earlier blog when I said young people who have grown up with social media have unsurprisingly become very accustomed to using it. The problem however is people treat it like having a conversation on the phone or down the pub. Facebook and Twitter in particular seem to be viewed as people's personal space. Linkedin meanwhile remains a good deal more po faced
Ok so we need a good work place policy to alert people to the dangers of social media to pre empt difficult situations for the individual and the business. But I don’t think this is the whole story. Perhaps it’s also about changing our attitudes on certain things. People make mistakes and mistakes are also a part of business and innovation so perhaps we need to be willing to put things into context. Yes Paris Brown made an error but let’s not forget she was industrious enough to get the role in the first place and I’m sure she is currently having the sort of experience that will make her wise beyond her years.
Perhaps it’s the idealist in me, but I also think as businesses, we should be embracing the willingness of people to use social media as a communication tool. Yes individuals need to be careful about what they post and as employers we need to recognise that there is the potential for it to damage our business. We also need to be prepared to educate people but I’d argue strongly that trying to ban it – ala the European Commission – isn’t the answer. Let us remember Social Media also has the potential to do wonderful things for our business. It can open new marketing channels, provide us with fantastic information and allow us to talk with people across the globe. So perhaps for employers it’s about tapping into the enthusiasm that many of us now have for social media. Instead of bringing in the expensive consultant to tell you how to use social media, how about asking your staff?
What do you think?