I recently attended a presentation by the research organisation Ovum where they presented  ten “super themes” for IT for the coming year.   I was particularly struck by the interplay between some of these – namely the rise of the “bring your own device” (BYOD) consumerisation of IT, the use of social media in business and the associated risks around information ownership and security.

One area where these themes interlink is in the challenges around using social media for business and personal use.

We are increasingly blurring the boundaries between our personal and business lives in our use of social media platforms.

In the past the distinctions were clearer – we had a LinkedIn account for our business life, and a Facebook account for our personal life.  People would tend to show their business relationships and activities on LinkedIn, but may have a very different network on Facebook and would not necessarily talk about work matters.

The rise in popularity of Twitter as a social media platform that encompasses both the business and personal worlds has blurred these distinctions.  Facebook has matured as an established medium, and increasingly commercial organisations have a Facebook presence.  Virtually every television commercial has a “like us on Facebook” call to action.  LinkedIn now lets you show more personal aspects – such as which books you are currently reading or would recommend.

This blurring has generated debate about whether or not you should have separate “business” and “personal” social media identities, and how you should conduct yourself when using these platforms.

Presenting a combined identity allows you to present a more rounded “human” image of an organisation, which can help in developing better business relationships and help generate business opportunities on the back of being more open.

There are, however, challenges and risks that can arise with combining personal and business identities.  These include:

  • Ensuring a style of language consistent with the business brand is used
  • Guidelines for employees as to how to behave on social media sites
  • Ensuring confidential organisation and client data is not disclosed
  • What knowledge do you allow to be disclosed to showcase your expertise?
  • What happens to social media data when someone leaves an organisation?
  • Who owns what (data, followers, content) and how are these separated?
  • How does the advent of BYOD affect things – if the individual owns their own device steps need to be taken to remove business owned data from their devices and restrict future access when they leave

There have been cases in the news recently which have highlighted disagreements between individuals and organisations over the use of social media, and in particular over ownership and content that has been made public.

Keeping business and personal accounts separate, and at times even blocking access to social media in the workplace is an obvious way to guard against these problems, and is an approach which many businesses have chosen to date.  However with younger generations entering the workplace who have grown up using these platforms, combined with a drive towards single devices of their own choosing, their expectation is to have a single identity for both their work and personal lives.

It is possible for businesses to support and encourage the single identity model.

Rules, guidance and training need to be put in place to ensure that any potential issues about the use of social media platforms are headed off in advance.

It is crucial the organisations and employees understand and appreciate the challenges and risks associated.  This knowledge needs to be supported by good guidelines and training in organisations, so that employees understand the rules they need to follow when talking about their employing organisation on social media platforms.    IT leaders need to collaborate with their colleagues in HR and other management functions to help them understand the risks around using social media platforms.

My view is that it is better to have a single account that conveys a rounded picture of the individual.  I have found in my own experience it helps when meeting people for the first time face-to-face I feel that I know a little about them which helps break the ice and develop a good relationship, and that this works both ways.  I have been pleasantly surprised when first meeting someone as to some of the good things they say about my tweets!

The use of guidelines and training should ensure that employees can feel encouraged to use social media to enhance their business communications, and organisations are fully aware of the risks and have appropriate procedures in place to mitigate them.