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Does Social Networking Have Unintended Consequences for Businesses and Employees?

Is there a new reality that we are moving toward in our individual quest to become the most relevant person on the Internet in our individual field of endeavor? To be considered successful in the social media world, one must be able to transcend the small talk in one’s industry and to attract the attention and conversation of the movers and shakers. In turn, the industry newcomers anxiously await your every blog post and tweet for nuggets of discerning thought; original or discussion based.

I am a small businessperson who markets trade show products on the Internet. I firmly believe that this new reality, for anyone who is serious about online marketing, is that he or she must involve his or her persona with the brand so that the two may morph into one. Have you noticed the effects on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and such? Individuals seem to be scrambling to imbed key words into one’s profile to ensure optimal search results and companies are simultaneously vying for similar prominence in online search results.

Do you remember when the ultimate success for a business was to have a product whose name became the identifying noun for that product category: Kleenex, Xerox, now iPad? This is called genericization and it was a good thing to a point. Now we have gone one step further in our thinking by suggesting that instead of a noun becoming the icon name of an industry or product, a proper name might become synonymous with an industry leading product, process or activity. The proper noun might be our own name!

What happens in our business and how does this affect a social media savvy employee? Where are the speed bumps in this chummy relationship that we’re cultivating for ourselves, our partners, and employees, in order to grow the business? We all know that web sites achieve relevancy based on good on page SEO, back links, and a number of other factors, but this also includes social networking which drives traffic and takes on the form of a carefully crafted strategy to use a person’s influence and knowledge to benefit a corporate entity. Web sites achieve relevancy based on good SEO which includes social networking and this has to be maintained by a “person” not a corporate entity.

Let’s consider two well used social media channels and how a person’s name can become intimately entwined with a single business.

1. Blogs that are created for the sole purpose of promoting a business by offering valuable content targeted to clients and industry partners will hopefully garner a large following. Yet, the author of the blog becomes a known commodity for his or her content, humor, style and has created substantial value for his or her employer in tangible terms by amassing eager loyal followers.

This company employee blogger becomes instrumental in his circle of influence. The blogger’s name has independently become a catalyst to drive traffic to the company’s website. Yet, while the company is cheering the blogger’s success the company must also be thinking how to protect that circle of influence for the sole purpose of bottom line growth.

2. LinkedIn has become a professional standard for business people in the social media world. It allows you to list you current work and accomplishments which has the power to direct a considerable amount of attention to your employer and their business activities and pursuits. An active LinkedIn user winds up joining groups and conversations that supports and promotes his or her line of business. By interacting effectively on LinkedIn the employee becomes a spokesperson of sorts for his or her employer. Again, this employee helps to define and shape the employer’s online image while building valuable connections. How does an employer view this interaction? Are the employers thinking that the employees connections are also their own? The outcome of all of the above activity is that the individual has now become an asset in ways that we’ve never thought about before which the company will feel it has every right to protect.

Here are a few more tricky scenarios to consider:

1. Dissolution of an employment relationship- An employee leaves the company and is looking to reclaim his or her name. Can the employer expect to have control over the past blog posts or to continue online conversations started from the ex-employee?

2. Employment- you want to hire a new employee but the employee doesn’t want to sign over to his employer, the rights to his or her name for blog posts which will be used in Social Networking for fear of becoming unemployable by others given the fact that the name is now so extricable linked to another business concern.

3. Death - this is a tricky one. The company will obviously want to continue to use the influence that the online circle of influence brings, but will the company delete the circle or pretend that nothing has happened and continue that person’s life through a ghostwriter similar solution? Perhaps an even bigger nightmare would be having the spouse of a dead employee or partner claiming that their diseased spouse’s name was an asset of the personal estate and is seeking compensation for the use of it after death.

When analyzing how the system works in its present form, and knowing how quickly a paradigm shift can occur which takes what made sense today and renders it worthless tomorrow, there are really no solid answers. You always need to be aware of who you are as an individual, know your strengths, and as best you can, explore how you want to use them for personal enjoyment, benefit and satisfaction, but most importantly be very cautious when beginning a career where you and your name will somehow be used to further a corporate interest. Maybe a good question to always be asking yourself before jumping into the social world for an employer would be; “Am I creating an asset for my employer that I’d be willing to leave with them someday, which may include my own name?” If in fact you’re creating something that you feel would have long lasting value to you, personally, over the span of your entire career, then further consideration may be in order. Remember, asking a question is never a bad thing when done in advance. That’s called wisdom!