Koby Asks: Must You Sacrifice Privacy for Social Business?

Mind your own beeswax!

A cynic might say that social business–one of the hottest new focus areas in multichannel marketing and engagement–is all about everybody minding everybody else’s business, not just their own. Clearly, there are privacy, data security, and intellectual property protection issues galore with social business–plus many excellent reasons why your enterprise should be engaging in it.

IBM’s Larry Dubov recently posted an excellent blog on whether you must sacrifice privacy for the sake of big data. He called for organizations to embrace the principle of “privacy by design” as a check on content aggregation, data mining, entity resolution, and other big-data practices that can encroach on personal privacy.

In the larger perspective, this and other privacy-sensitive principles should inform your rules of engagement for social business. Privacy concerns are rooted deep in the heart of the social experience, which thrives on sharing but can easily slip into oversharing, online surveillance, cyberstalking, and intrusive targeting. We should put privacy considerations at the core of our social business initiatives before customers demand it or the courts, regulatory bodies, and legislators decide to force our hands.

To understand the appropriate safeguards for privacy in social business, first we need a clear understanding of this emerging paradigm. According to IBM, social business refers to the incorporation of social tools, media, and practices into your internal and external communications. It enables agile engagements among various, shifting combinations of stakeholders: between you and your customers, between your various employees, or between your employees and your partners. Within socials of various shapes and sizes, members can connect, converse, listen, publish, and share directly with each other, eschewing centralized oversight, rigid workflows, hierarchical access controls, and other control-heavy features of traditional business collaboration tools.

Social business usually leverages the public socials–such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn—for business-to-consumer (B2C) engagement, and even for a growing range of employee-to-employee (E2E) and business-to-business (B2B) interactions. In addition, depending on your requirements, it can leverage enterprise-specific, industry-specific, and otherwise specialized business-oriented social communities. In E2E and B2B contexts, you’re using the social to share information, expertise, apps, and other resources that contribute to business outcomes.

Regardless of the specific online community within which it takes place, what makes any engagement “social” is that it leverages these core engagement principles:

  • The community requires new members to declare their online identity and various profile attributes within a shared directory or registry.
  • The community supports publish-and-subscribe, peer-based interactions and sharing among members.
  • The community enables sharing of member-posted content on a common site, space, or forum.
  • The community allows members to declare which other members (aka “friends”) have special privileges to view their posts, send them messages, and so forth.
  • The community allows each member to create a continuously updated, personalized view of the common forum, in terms of which other members’ posts they wish to see.

The bottom line is that you don’t need to sacrifice privacy for social business, but you must be disciplined and vigilant in order to keep your life from becoming a wide-open online book. Transparency is the essence of sharing, but concealment of some aspects of your life is the core of privacy. The key social principles outlined above put the onus on each member of a social to selectively self-conceal. Each of us must refrain from declaring, sharing, or posting anything that might encroach on one’s own privacy. Each of us must also declare which of our “friends” has privileged access to what we might choose to put out in the common space. And we must revisit these personal decisions continually, either to carry them forward or tweak them as our circumstances and sensitivities evolve.

Social networks have addressed privacy concerns to varying degrees within their basic structures and functionality. Many socials are member-configurable as zones of greater and lesser personal privacy and privilege, with Facebook being the most visible enabler of this paradigm. Consequently, your privacy on socials is a matter of:

  • How privacy-enabling are the social networks you’re choosing to engage on?
  • How social are you choosing to be on those social networks?

In terms of cultural sensitivities, privacy is primarily an issue on social business within B2C contexts. How much of ourselves in our personal capacity do we wish, want, or dare to share with or allow to be seen by companies–trusted/familiar and otherwise–on various socials? But privacy also enters into E2E uses of socials, because many of us wish to maintain some degree of distance between our professional and personal selves.

Do you really want your fellow employees–or potential employers who are considering you for a job–to see everything you did in Vegas last year? And in B2B contexts, organizations must safeguard privacy-sensitive information about their employees, as well as the corporate-level “privacy” surrounding trade secrets, intellectual property, and so forth.

The social-business industry needs a comprehensive privacy framework to guide risk assessment, implementation, and governance of the technology in B2B, E2E, and B2C contexts. User organizations must define clear policies outlining the privacy-sensitive constraints on social-business listening, aggregation, mining, targeting, and engagement. Social-business environments should support user-definable controls in several areas:

  • How we identify ourselves on a social network;
  • What personal attributes we may reveal on or withhold from a social network;
  • What permissions we may set on resources we share on a social network;
  • Which social network we may choose to be wholly or partially visible on;
  • Which business functions (e.g., marketing, sales, customer service, support, etc.) we prefer to conduct over one or another social network;
  • What sorts of business functions (e.g., sentiment monitoring, offer targeting, influence measurement, etc.) others within a social network may incorporate into their engagement with us; and
  • Who, how, and under what circumstances we may friend and unfriend others–individuals, groups, businesses, etc.–on a social network.

As you’re clarifying the privacy issues surrounding your company’s social-business initiatives, be sure to engage key functional experts before problems occur. In addition to marketing and customer service, you should include experts from your company’s human resources, legal, IT, communications, finance, compliance, and risk management groups.

Social networking is beginning to permeate every aspect of modern business.

Privacy is too important to treat it as an afterthought in your social engagement strategy.  

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