Reputation Risk and Social Media: Where personal and professional worlds collide

Social media has become the murky water where personal and professional reputations are shared, liked, posted and sometimes annihilated. The ability to share anything on the spot has become the bane of many an organization and the people who work for them.

Just a week ago a young veterinarian Kristen Lindsey was fired for posting and boasting about  a picture of herself with a cat that she had killed with a bow and arrow.  While police couldn’t charge Lindsey until they determined if the picture was real or not, her employer didn’t hesitate to take action. The Washington Animal Clinic issued a statement on their website.  “We are absolutely appalled, shocked, upset, and disgusted by the conduct,” a spokesperson for the clinic wrote in a statement. “We condemn it in the strongest possible manner.”

Does a social media gaff have to have this type of shock factor in order to be noticed? The answer is no.  If your corporation only measures social media violations based on how far reaching they are, then stand by because the shock wave will come.

A couple of years ago, we conducted an exercise where one corporation wanted to measure the online footprint of some of their senior executives.  Everyone of the individuals bought into the exercise and were sure that their online footprints were essentially clean…..but, there’s always that one….  We had a look at some online dating sites and we stumbled upon one where people are looking for affairs.  We  put in a series of search criteria; location, age range (because everybody lies about it), height, hair color, eye color etc. Lo and behold a picture loads and it is the professional picture of one of our executives and it is the same picture used on the corporate website.

As you can imagine, this opened up a huge can of worms. The executive claimed his private life was private. The corporation claimed “not when you use the picture we own of you”.  It is so easy to see how these worlds can collide. I’m not at liberty to say what happened to this executive, but let’s just say the point was made.  Anyone, anywhere can make the connection between an individual and where they work.

When I read posts on social media I always look at who is making them. Especially those that threaten or break ethical boundaries. And each and everyday I am shocked at those who do not have a filter or a thought that what they might be posting is inappropriate for their positions.  But it makes for interesting reading, research and eventually fodder for my classes. When teaching in house sessions on social media risk I am always amused at the participants madly deleting posts and pictures throughout the duration of the class.

Some tips to keep your personal & professional reputations intact:

1)  Distance your personal and professional social media profiles.                                      If you have a professional reputation to protect then maybe don’t mention where                  you work on your personal social media profiles.

2) Think before you post.                                                                                                              If you think that your opinion or actions can come back and bite you professionally –            don’t post them. (And PS how many times have I seen someone make an                            inappropriate post and then claim their accounts were hacked? – nope don’t buy it)

3)  Disclaimers on social media mean nothing.                                                                         Those posts of “views are my own and don’t reflect the view of my employer” mean              absolutely nothing.  This will not prevent people from associating you with your                    employer, in fact, it usually draws people to look into who your employer is.

4)  Understand your social media policy and code of conduct                                               Remember that you only have one reputation.

As long as HR & Ethics departments think that what a person posts on their social media profiles is personal, then they do nothing to mitigate the risks involved for the corporation. There is no such thing as personal or private as long as a person uses social media. Worlds collide and merge as one – either like a good marriage or a bad one.

Nejolla provides training to corporations on social media risk and social engineering.  

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Who got the PIN? Votes, views and ethics

As much as I complained about the difficulty in voting in PC Alberta’s leadership election, I decided I would do something about it.  I volunteered to work at a polling station to help Albertans vote on Saturday.

We were to assist people who arrived at the polling station from verifying their memberships, taking them to receive their pin number and walking them through the computerized log in and voting process. It was good to see many enthusiastic, if not computer wary Albertans make their way in to vote.  The biggest challenge that afternoon was how difficult it was for elderly voters try to use the mouse.  Both the faded and small print on the computer and using the mouse proved to be huge challenges for some voters.  It also didn’t help that the elevator up to the third level at the Expo Centre was out of order.  We heard stories that one man was trapped in the elevator for 30 minutes and then he had to be taken down in the freight elevator.

We were also helping people retrieve their pin numbers when they phoned in on the help line. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief from people when we called and said we were calling to help them get their pin. For the most part we were able to help, but there were times when people were turned down because their information didn’t match Elections Alberta. One man told me he was a council member in Drayton Valley and he was stunned that his name was not registered with Elections Alberta.  We were to inform people to please register or update their files and then encourage people to vote for the 2nd ballot on September 20. There was no opportunity for them to vote in this election.  By now, we’ve heard all of these stories constantly reported in the press.

But this is where it takes a detour. I was handed a stack of pin numbers and asked to return the call of one MLA who had requested them.  I was told that an exception was made in this case and we were to pass the PIN numbers on to him. We had turned down many earlier voters who were calling in to get pin numbers for their spouses or their children.  Our instructions were that we had to speak to the eligible voter in order to hand them their pins.

I called the MLA, left a message for him and waited for a return call.  He called me back and I read the numbers back to him. Once I was done he said that he had a couple more.  As many of you know, I analyze language for a living. For many of us, a couple would mean two – but in reality it rarely ever does. I had already given out at least 13 pin numbers to this man.

He told me he had more and read back another 7 names and membership numbers. His requests were processed and while I was waiting to read him the numbers, I heard him tell someone “get me more names, get me more names”. When I heard that, I thought that giving him any additional PIN numbers was wrong.  I asked that he call the office and put in another request but that I couldn’t help him any longer.  So who actually voted from that stack of pin numbers? Was it the member?  I doubt it!  Or was it the enthusiastic MLA or a volunteer that entered votes  for those phantom members?

Does this violate any code of ethics? Is it right for an MLA to have the voting rules broken for them to help members vote? It depends. It depends if the help request is legit or not.

I told the woman who gave me the stack of PINs that he gave me another list of names and membership numbers and that he yelled to someone else to bring him more that he could read out to me. She shook her head and told me I did the right thing and said “this is a complete gong show”. I really believe that the polling stations and additional manpower on the phones was really helping those vote who couldn’t earlier. But this last call really called to question the ethics of bending the rules for MLAs or anyone else

If every MLA called in with a list of members and their membership numbers like this man had – how many favoured voters were receiving their voting information while others weren’t? As I mentioned in my previous blog, we will never know. How many memberships were sold during this leadership race?  How is it that voter turnout was only 23,000 – less than one third voter turnout from 2011. Is it because people couldn’t vote? Didn’t care about the vote? Or, weren’t given the opportunity to vote?

Candidates have moved on, a winner declared and that’s life in politics.  I have one major question.  Will this MLA and others be rewarded for collecting member pin numbers?  Or will this behaviour be deemed unethical?