Monday, April 21, 2008

A Privacy Conundrum

Is it ethical to follow employees?

That’s a question I wrestled with over the weekend as I prepared to sign-up to follow two of my colleagues with active Twitter feeds:

Jeff Majka (
Shany Seawright (

My rationale was sincere. I have struggled to understand the business value delivered by Twitter because of the inability to share meaningful thought leadership content. However, I recognize its adoption in business circles, and noted the Twitter community of journalists and analysts created at the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco.

Exploring and observing is an effective way to assess a social media application. If I’m to be comfortable making a client recommendation, I have to be able to articulate a clear ROI. And that is more than a tenuous benchmark such as awareness and community participation.

Yet, I pride myself on respecting the privacy of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) employees. I am very much engaged in their professional success and, in particular, have established strong ties with both Shany and Jeff during the four years we’ve worked together. However, there is a line in the relationship I don’t step over.

Will the content of their tweets change if I’m a follower? Will they refrain from commenting about a frustrating day? Or, does the very nature of social media (open, honest dialogue) make this a non-issue?

I’ve yet to sign-on as one of Shany’s or Jeff’s followers. What do you think…should I?


andymurd said...

Of course you should! You should also subscribe to their blogs, find them on FriendFeed,, Facebook etc. Maybe even Google their names once in a while too.

You hired these guys because they know their stuff and you trust their judgement. When they are exploring ideas with their network, you can be part of that too.

Following them on Twitter is not checking up on them, it's joining them in the global discussion.

juliepixler said...

After reading your post, and then Andy's - it can be seen both ways.

If you were to look at Twitter as a global discussion board, the writer or Twitterer will write accordingly to maintain a level of professionalism - especially if they are using Twitter as a blog of snippets to inspire or inform their readers about breaking tech news.

But, if I were a stay-at-home Mom and knew that my mother-in-law and 2 best girlfriends were checking in, it would certainly be a different blog covering vacation plans, celeb news, burnt toast, bad dye jobs, lost pacifiers, and nosey neighbors, and my husband's need to leave the bathroom a swamp.

To answer your question, I think its an honest concern that more people (employers, colleagues) will have to consider as more of these social media platforms evolve and become more prevalent. Especially if its between work colleagues, and clients.

I suppose people should adopt a 'rule of thumb' don't write anything that you wouldn't want the public to see- or that you aren't willing to explain. As far as emotions throughout the day, I say keep those details for the drive home.

Does that take away from the honesty, definitely. But do you really want your boss to know that you have 10 loads of laundry backed up and you got a foot fungus from your last pedicure. Not really.

Marc Hausman said...

@Julie - you make an excellent point about the responsibility a person has to understand who is reading their tweets (or blog posts) and to write accordingly.

I've read a number of articles about people being turned away from a job because of professionally inappropriate content on their Facebook profile.