The Reputation Economy, Employees, and Privacy

As companies embrace the notion of a reputation economy fueled by the power of social platforms this brings a new set of challenges for management and employees.

I was at the Salesforce #cloudcrowd event in Sydney recently and we were discussing this issue with guest speaker Peter Coffee.

The issue is that companies increasingly require employees to interact online on behalf of the company but using their own persona.

Upon consideration, it is not much different to offline where one meets with business contacts using a real name.  But the difference is that those meetings are mostly written on the wind.  Online interaction is forever. It is an almost permanent record of where you were, what you said, and to whom it was said.

Thus for the employee, the private conversations and meetings of the past have transformed into public online interactions, potentially geotagged and with accompanying photo.

What this is doing is tying the individual’s personal reputation very closely with that of the company in a very public and well documented way. In the past it was relatively easy (especially in a big city) to gloss over a former job and what you really did in it.

But now this will become increasingly difficult as more and more of our business interaction is transacted in public and online.

It will also become increasingly difficult for companies on several levels:

  • Firstly, they will find it more challenging to repudiate the activities and actions of employees, since these will be well documented online.
  • Secondly, they will find their public reputation increasingly tied explicitly to employee behaviour as played out in various online forums.
  • And thirdly, there is the risk that employees will use online forums to share their feelings (both positive and negative), as per the very colourful  examples of Goldman Sachs’ former employee Greg Smith Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs or Google’s James Whittaker Why I Left Google.

Problems for employees include:

Rawn Shah’s October 2011  presentation gives a nice overview of the issues involved in The Blurring of Job Loyalties, Social Collaboration and Personal Freedom.

One thing is certain, the boundaries between private citizens and their online activity as representatives of a company is starting to blur and this is likely to increase.  It also means that we individuals will increasingly be subject to ongoing and continuous surveillance from companies as well as the government.

Privacy is truly dead.