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August 05, 2011

Social Intelligence a Double-Edged Sword to Businesses, Says Business Ethics Expert

By Rajani Baburajan, TMCnet Contributor

With social media intruding the work space at an inconceivable speed, companies become wary of the adverse consequences it brings to their organizations. Social media activities bring a number of challenges to organizations. Security concerns are cited as one of the most severe challenges organizations face through the extensive usage of social media by employees. It may also affect employee productivity and create damage to online reputation in some instances.

To keep abreast on the technology is the need of the hour for all businesses, so they cannot afford to ignore social media within their organizations. Preventing malpractice and ensuring security are the only ways to deal with this situation. To achieve this, several organizations have now adopted Social Intelligence, a relatively new term that has caught the wide attention of businesses suffering from the nuisance of social media culture.

Social Intelligence provides businesses with a way to measure the social activity happening in the workplace. The information is available in the form of archived data from social media sites, which the authority may analyze to ensure there is no internal threat to the company from these employees.

While many businesses think the practice is acceptable, a Kansas State University business ethics expert says it can be a double-edged sword. 

"I understand the need of a business to protect its reputation," said Diane Swanson, professor of management and chair of a business ethics education initiative. "But in terms of employees' rights, the practice coexists uneasily with the expectation of personal privacy." 

The use of Social Intelligence will infringe the freedom of communications of employees, according to Swanson. The practice could create a climate of fear and distrust. These effects could be detrimental to morale and hurt productivity. 

The solution to this issue, according to Swanson, is to craft policies and provide expectations of employee's online conduct. This would shift the emphasis from monitoring to creating shared understanding between employers and employees. Further steps would also be necessary. 

However, while doing so, the company is liable to provide full disclosure of its monitoring practices and the consequences employees would face if they violated stated policy and hurt the business' reputation, Swanson said. The approach is important especially because currently there are no laws to deal with issues arising from Social Intelligence.

“Data collected by Social Intelligence follows the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It also does not include basic demographic information. But the monitoring and screening can provide any message or tweet deemed worthy of mention. The approach could prove negative for businesses if valued employees are ousted or alienated in the process,” Swanson said. 

Businesses could also implement the best social media practice by educating the employees about individual organizational policies.

Swanson suggests the loss of personal privacy in social media activities is emblematic of larger societal trends. 

"We are getting used to what could be considered violations of our privacy from what has been happening with government practices and now on the corporate side," Swanson said. "Such practices cause tension in a society where citizens traditionally value individualism and look to the law to protect the expectation of privacy." 

As social media gains more relevance in human lives, Swanson believes that ultimately public policy and the courts will establish more definitive guidelines. 

"The problem is that technology outpaces the ability of the law and public policy to keep up," she said. 

Meanwhile employees should be cautious and be aware of the consequences of indulging in such activities in work place, so that they will be able to make smart decisions, according to Swanson. 

Businesses – big or small – are not ready to compromise by ignoring social media. A TMCnet report says smaller businesses have quickly figured out that social media and social networking is valuable because it matches the way most small and local businesses already get most of their new customer leads.

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Rajani Baburajan is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Rajani's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by John Lahtinen
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