Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drafting Good Policies for Social Media Use at Work – Part One

The Risks and Reasons

Social media is not going away. It is going to explode on the work scene. New tools like Google’s Wave are coming out, which means FaceBook-type communication is becoming the norm, not the exceptional. If you think the lines between personal and work life are blurred now, just wait.

The benefits of limited social media usage at work have become more clear, especially in very dynamic industries. B2C businesses can put their fingers on the pulse of consumer frenzies as they develop and build both brand awareness and loyalty with direct connections to their prospective customers. B2B businesses can monitor industry developments and buzz about their competitors by customers while shoring up their reputations and proactively cutting off damaging rumors as they start. Advocacy groups can connect easily and see instantaneous developments that may be successful in other places while gathering supporters who are passionate about their cause. Communities of all kinds have sprung up across the social mediasphere and continue to multiply.

There are many risks hidden beneath each social media (SM) page, however. Most can occur very easily both intentionally and unintentionally:

+ Divulging trade secrets
+ Violating data privacy laws
+ Libel and defamation
+ Violating federal and state securities laws
+ Breaches of professional confidentiality obligations
+ Misrepresentation of authority
+ Brand dilution
+ Harassment

Because intentional acts are obviously a threat, I will focus on unintentional ways your staff may cause problems for themselves and your organization through their SM usage.

1. Identity & Authority
When a person speaks, the audience often looks to see what authority she has. Online, the clues can be found in the commentator’s profile: email address, employer name, job title and even business address. If your staff use their work email addresses for their personal online socializing, there is a risk of confusion by the public as to which positions, photos and postings are the employees and which ones represent the employer.

It is one thing to embarrass oneself online with pictures showing a wild time. It is another thing to put your employer in a bad light by linking your crazy cavorting to the company—or worse, posting pictures from a company event without company approval.

2. Breaches of Confidentiality
A recent case where a law firm associate publicly Tweeted as he was reviewing documents during discovery grabbed headlines in some circles. He did not reveal any names, but his opposing counsel was listening and learned through implication about the existence of a potential treasure trove of evidence that the firm had not yet even evaluated, much less disclosed during litigation. In technology, the risk of divulging trade secrets is high, as many senior managers are unaware how decipherable some comments are to those who know the programming language or engineering terms. If a tech grumbles about a particularly thorny challenge with enough detail, the cat will be out of the bag about what he is working on before anyone has a chance to prevent it.

Data privacy laws apply to the employees of an organization as well as the organization itself—even when the employees are “off the clock,” so to speak. There are serious consequences for violating various privacy and confidentiality laws, even if there is no immediate, actual harm.

3. Insider Information
Public companies always run the risk of crossing lines related to their stock. If some news leaks through a few FaceBook photos or updates, then an executive buys or sells shares even coincidentally, the company and the executive can spend dozens of hours and a lot of money defending allegations of improper trading even when they are not guilty. Likewise, in the age where your competitors “listen” with ears not to the ground, but to their Twitter space, random, disparate Tweets by different people located thousands of miles apart aggregate into a picture that can cost you your edge.

4. Harassment
Abusive language and constant messaging would not be tolerable inside the organization’s network. But some employees feel the freedom to act disrespectfully when in their own little SM worlds. They forget about the profile information that lists where they work, their work email address or even what they do, and then blast a peer or worse, a supervisor, and think no one will tie the post back to their place of employment. Cyber stalking and cyber bullying have become well-known terms, which is unfortunate.

In the next post in this series, I will survey some of the guidance available when crafting your own social media policy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What You Should Know When Selecting Software for Your Organization - Part Two

In my earlier post on this subject, I outlined Step One, “Assess, then Search.” The idea is to build a frame around the search to help limit the distractions by irrelevant solutions. Once your needs assessment is complete, what do you do with the resulting list?

For Step Two, the actual product search phase, I will explore some of the self-created risks many software buyers face during this important decision process as well as how to work through them.

What is on your technology shopping list?

A thorough needs assessment will guide the initial shopping phase, whether you issue a Request for Information (RFI), search key terms on the Web or seek referrals from other organizations who use similar software. Many use a detailed checklist that moves from general feature to specific function to narrow the list to a select few.

The essential features and requirements should be there, but do not hesitate to add your wish list of nice-to-have features as well. You may not be aware of what is available and if you do not ask, you may never know what you can have within your budget. Most large businesses use a comprehensive matrix of questions and answer spaces, often provided in Word or Excel format to allow the responding vendors to fill in their answers.

One mistake that many purchases make is to become too wedded to their list. As you learn more about what is available, your feature list may evolve and mature. If your needs change, there is nothing wrong with changing what you ask of the prospective vendors. Never be afraid to throw out the information gathering results and start over or at least send out a second round of questions. The vendor needs to earn your business and it is their job to sell you, not the other way around.

When I was pitching software, it was nice to find prospective customers who actually sought unstructured input and suggestions on thorny business needs. Whether in the RFI or during a sales presentation, find a way to open the discussion to allow creative problem-solving with the vendor’s professional staff (not simply a sales executive who may promise you anything to get the deal).

Make sure your checklist addresses these vendor qualities in addition to your software feature needs:

-> Customer Satisfaction with the product AND the company – What do their customers say about each? How willing are they to give you names?
-> History of providing update communications – How well do they alert customers about known issues before the customers report them? Or do they pretend each report is an amazing discovery they have never seen before? (See also, "Is Your Software Vendor Your 'Friend'?")
-> Business maturity – How long has the company been in business and in the software business? How sophisticated are their developers and product design professionals? Who drives development, the Sales department or a professional software design expert?
-> Market focus – How many customers like you do they already have? What do they know about your industry or business model?

Who is on your product selection committee?

Whether you have an IT Department, a single Network Administrator or an outside consultant, make sure you get sound advice and input from your trusted tekkie who is up on current tech standards and trends. Technology changes rapidly and the accepted guidelines from even two years ago may no longer hold. Technical input is crucial to ensuring that your investment will not fall apart under everyday usage.

At least as important, however, are the actual users. IT can guide you, but be aware that they often look at software purchases in terms of how much trouble the product will be to install and maintain, not how well-suited it is to your business operations needs. IT, for example, may prefer web-based solutions because they are easier to deploy and maintain. Users, however, may need more power at the desktop level or off-line capabilities. Who wins a stand-off in that situation? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one? On the otherhand, users tend to want products that are not much different from what they already have or know. Ease of use is an understandable demand, but fear of change may color their input and pull you away from a product that will help you grow and expand for years to come.

The software vendors will play to the power on your selection committee. If they see that as IT, you can expect pitches that tout the technology “under the hood” and back-end qualities such as the application product interface (API) rather than features in the user interface or usability. If the vendors sense that users are at the helm, then you should hear more about ease of use, simplicity and configurability for the users and less about reliability, stability or technological limitations. Let them know right away that power is balanced between IT and users, even if there is a chief decision maker in the event of a tie who will consider both sides’ needs and input.

In the final post in this series, I will cover the evaluation phase.