Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Impact of Social Computing

Bookmark Business Technology and People

I came across one of those “Columbus Egg” postings which I found excellent, motivating enough to add this post. My trigger is a post by Gartner analyst Anthony Bradley about the realities of Social Media, and I would like to expand on this.

There’s a long dated debate about the limit between private and public life, and about media transgression in the lives of public figures. This got a dramatic exposure with the tragic death of Princess Diana. The internet and the new social sites give anyone access to the world, to the point of redefining the meaning of fundamental social terms (what does the word “Friend” mean nowadays?). People use social networking sites, blogging and messaging to gain exposure and develop (consciously or unconsciously) a personal brand. They are not always attentive to the “Pandora Box” effect, that what they publish is out there in the public domain. It reminds me of the venerable arrest warning “anything you say could be used against you”. As Anthony rightly points out, “No matter where you fall on the question of personal privacy, this is the way of the world and it is unlikely to change because there are too many people who feel that if you sell your persona then all your behavior is fair game. And certainly the demand for scandalous information is strong”.

Another related challenge is the impact of social computing on the enterprise. Businesses spend a very significant percentage of their income to carefully manage branding and communications. A press release that is less and a page often incurs more that an entire day of human labor until it hits the wire. In contrast, most of the content published in social media is essentially ad-hoc and often reflects temporal sentiments. We see more and more frequently situations where the personal brand of an employee becomes significant, and when that employee is also a visible figure in an enterprise it might challenge the communication effort of that enterprise and impact its brand.

How do you reconcile then privacy rights and professional limitations? The Internet gives private persons enormous potential power, and with power comes responsibility. If a person wants to play in the branding and exposure Enterprise league, then he/she should also accept the consequences, and realize that just as Facebook changed the meaning of “Friend” so did the social computing phenomena change the meaning and boundaries of “Privacy”.

I take this opportunity to wish you a happy festive season and a prosperous new year.