This weekend, I coached my eight year old son in cricket. He plays “Milo” cricket which is aimed at beginners and is a tremendous initiative from Cricket Australia to get young children involved in a non-competitive and relatively relaxed environment. For parents, it is also a good opportunity to spend some enjoyable time with your children and also meet some other parents who you would ordinarily not get the time to meet with. This Saturday I had the good fortune to meet a parent who recognised me from a flight we both boarded from Perth to Brisbane on Friday night. He was in Perth at the Australasian Talent Conference and asked me if I attended. Sadly, I didn’t but he gave me a break down of what was presented. He is a lawyer by trade but has developed a niche consulting to businesses on the dangers associated with the usage of social media.

Now readers of my blogs will be well versed on the fact that I am a relative novice with social media. I am basically just learning about the power of the medium and, more interestingly, I am becoming more wary of the potential dangers associated with it. After cricket on Saturday morning, I invited my new best friend for coffee to pick his brains about social media and what are the dangers for a business like the Optimum Group.

Over the next hour or so, I was entertained with many examples of where social media usage led to problems for individuals and employers alike. Here were some of the best discussed:

  • A junior member of a company posted a message on their Facebook page that they had a massive weekend and decided to stay down the coast and make it a long weekend. They called in on Monday morning and said they had a tummy bug and would not be in. Unfortunately for the employee, her colleagues read her update and spoke about it and her social media footprint led to her termination.
  • A young man within a business services company was planning to leave his employment and set up in competition. He took to social media to seek funding and basically posted his business plan on Twitter. His employer read it and, needless to say, his employment was terminated immediately.
  • A partner of an international law firm was at a weekend BBQ when he hopped onto Facebook with a colleague. He read various posts from his secretary complaining about his wife, who she had decided to call “VV”. Now VV stood for varicose veins (apparently she had issues with these) and the posts were hurtful and childish. Once again, she was terminated without notice (and with a great deal of shame).
  • A Twitter argument between two managers within a company turned nasty. It was about an internal promotion and what started as some innocent teasing became a full blown spat and both managers missed out on the promotion. They were also both demoted as a direct result of their behaviour.

Now, all four of these issues occurred on personal web pages (probably operated off either work computers or hand held devices more likely) but all four related to work. My new friend explained to me that this was an issue that is becoming major and opens up the possibility of bullying claims and also confidentiality breaches. He encouraged me to develop a social media policy to govern the use of social media while under the employment of our business covering all forms or personal and professional sites (I asked him to write it for me however he is exclusively contracted to an international competitor). He did give me some free advice though. He told me that every person featured on my website should be particularly circumspect about what they post online. For a business like Optimum, it is even more difficult given that nearly all of our team post advertisements and blogs. He pulled his laptop out and we searched some ex and present employees to demonstrate risk and potential brand damage and it certainly gave me some food for thought…..and a couple more grey hairs. It scares me a little because it blurs the line between personal and professional, but when you advertise yourself on sites like LinkedIn with your occupation, you are easily searched and identified with where you work. It is really quite scary. I know that my first phone call on Monday morning will be to my lawyer to get his counsel and develop a policy that covers off these concerns.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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