Privacy and Publicity: The two sides of social media

In my interactions with social media, I have developed exactly one hard and fast rule. I never post anything online that I would be embarrassed by anyone seeing, from my mom to a complete stranger. For me, this isn’t a hard resolution to follow. My neurotic aversion to alcohol has helped tremendously in that endeavor, saving me from the inevitable incriminating Facebook pictures that have haunted so many people who posted them in the naiveté of the early years. But in my case, my choices on Facebook reflect the choices that I make in real life.

Socialnomics by Eric Qualman claims that for many, the reverse is true. That social media actually prevents bad behavior. In some ways, I agree that people are more aware of the damaging possibilities of instant internet access. However, I would propose that social media has adapted in order to reduce the need for users to adapt their lives in this way.

Always On by Naomi S. Baron details the lack of concern that Facebook users had in 2005-2006 for their privacy. I do believe that in the ensuing years, Facebook users have become far savvier about protecting their information. For example, currently users can block anyone from seeing their posts, even if they are friends. Thus a parent who is simply Facebook friends with their teenaged child may not actually be seeing a true representation of their child’s online activities and consequently that child may feel freer to engage in less pleasing behavior with at least perceived immunity.

Therefore some of the social control of Facebook is diminished, although it certainly is not removed entirely, as it does not hide content that others post or control other sites. I think that while people may now think twice about posting that compromising photo online, the knowledge of the consequences of being in that compromising position may not reach beyond the choice of whether or not to post the photo.

While I would argue that social media doesn’t prevent behavior as much on a personal level as Qualman claims, I do think that social media absolutely prevents and corrects poor behavior at a corporate level. While privacy benefits individuals, having a very public presence benefits corporations.

As Qualman points out, companies that use social media to solve customer problems end up improving their brand and their reputation right in front of an army of people who may not have otherwise known about that company’s effective customer service until they saw a problem solved quickly via Twitter.

I never knew that companies were using social media in this way, but it makes so much more sense to market yourself by publicly exhibiting good customer service in front of people rather than using the rhetoric of traditional marketing to try to convince people of a company’s good customer service. Corporations that don’t address the concerns of their customers in this way are missing out on a great opportunity to not only address problems, but to boost their brand overall.

Social media can so easily improve or damage a reputation, whether on an individual or corporate level, and we have to make choices knowing that because it can affect our futures.

Posted on September 22, 2013, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on social media. I agree that social networking sites have both a private and public aspect. Interestingly, I keep my Facebook on “lock down” in terms of privacy. I teach 7th and 8th graders and absolutely DO NOT want them contacting me in any way outside of school. As a result, my profile is unsearchable unless you know my undergraduate email address (which very few people do). I’m not embarrassed or hiding anything, I just want to be invisible to a particular audience. I appreciate Facebook’s privacy settings!

    • I am interested in this lockdown approach….are there settings one should know about in order to limit how students might find you? Is it a case of altering your profile info….can you share more? I, too, like to keep my personal life separate from my students at times…..I can share more in person than I like to share via Facebook.
      I get this.
      Christin Hunter

  2. I find this statement very interesting: “I do think that social media absolutely prevents and corrects poor behavior at a corporate level. While privacy benefits individuals, having a very public presence benefits corporations.”

    In my workplace, I have several colleagues on Facebook who are my friends, but to be honest, I limit my Facebook to mostly close friends and family. I would consider myself a strange mix of social and anti-social (private, recluse sort who needs to disconnect from the world at times.)

    What I noticed is that some of my co-workers seem to not care about the comments and status posts they make related to work (granted it is only one or two). I have seen comments come through that make me wonder if they realize that our company (institution) may find cause for some kind of action based on an inappropriate post. It makes me wonder if my place has someone who monitors our accounts…..now I am sitting here wondering who is watching me? Okay, paranoia has sunk in….but really, I just wonder if it is true. Are they watching our SM?

    But I might not say that social media absolutely prevents and corrects poor behavior at a corporate level only because I have seen employees disregard it….I would say it could prevent and correct behavior based on whether or not other employees see disciplinary action upon other employees because of SM….I have yet to see this in my workplace, but that does not mean it isn’t happening….I am just not sure we would know….I am wondering if most businesses have rules on this sort of thing now,

    Very interesting to think about your comment and if all corporate businesses feel this way, too; do they expect their employees to know how to use SM appropriately or do they now train them? And how do they expect employees to separate business from personal?

    Christin Hunter

    • Christin, in my experience, I have also had a few coworkers who are Facebook friends make some very public inappropriate comments about work on Facebook. In my previous company, I heard that someone was fired for making a negative comment about the company on Facebook. So while I don’t necessarily think someone is watching your every move, I do think it’s important to be careful about what we say publicly, especially in regard to companies we work for.

    • I think you make good points. However, I wasn’t referring to individuals within a corporation. I consider employees making inappropriate comments about work on Facebook as being on par with all those drunken photos. They aren’t a good idea, but people still post them.

      With that quote that you pulled I was referring to corporation’s reputations, such as the Comcast example.

      Also, they probably are watching you 🙂

  3. I am completely on board with your one hard and fast rule. I also do not post anything on my Facebook (or other social media sites) that I wouldn’t want anyone (and everyone) to see. I think you’re right that Facebook’s addition of privacy settings has probably made Qualman’s conclusion that Social Media limits bad behavior less true. He talked about how some parents allow their children to have a Facebook page on the condition that they are Facebook friends and can monitor their postings. If these children are savvy enough, though, they can make sure their parents see exactly what they want to see- and only that.

    • If you have their passwords, you can go in and see exactly what they are posting, not just what they will let you see. Funny ting is, most kids don’t mess around with blocking certain people or posts – it is too much work (at least that is what my kids tell me and they are very open with me). I think I have gotten to the point, as far as privacy, that noting is private anymore. If I am concerned about it being read by the wrong person (family, co-worker, etc), I just don’t post it.

  4. Your post reminds me of something that happened around 2005-06. Four students at our university, working at a local convenience store, spent a period of time (hours) posting comments about the customers coming in and out of the store. The convenience store franchise promptly fired all 4 of them, and this raised a ruckus on our campus about free speech and whatnot. Now, I am about as liberal as they come, but I totally did not understand this debate. My only question was “how far removed from ‘boundaries’ are we getting?” Why did those 4 students not see the inappropriateness of their behavior? I still don’t have an answer to that, but I do think our students, as a whole (there are always exceptions), are much more savvy, even just 6-7 years later, about what they put out for public scrutiny.

    About the exceptions: around 2009, one of our student athletes (under drinking age) had a photo posted in FB by a friend (taken with a cell phone camera) and the student was holding a beer. There was rather a “to do” about what the appropriate course of action was on the university’s part, but I think the student did experience some disciplinary action. The big news wasn’t that the photo was posted, but I think it got our organization thinking about policies to handle such matters.

  5. You provided an excellent summary of the reading, and I really appreciate your comments and examples. I personally haven’t seen any examples of employees terminated due to inappropriate posts, but I have also never seen someone openly insult a corporation they work for.
    There was a rather funny image of an exchange between a girl complaining about her boss and job which resulted in her being “relieved of her work duties”, but that was an image of the conversation, and it wasn’t anyone I knew. It is interesting how social media has brought up issues that had never really been considered or anticipated before.

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