Last week I gave a talk to a group of 50 members of the Women in Management (WiM) Network. A group organised and sponsored by the Chartered Management Institute. The theme of the evening event was ‘Business in a Digital Age’. Usually at events I am asked to discuss the use of digital media in marketing and/or organizational communications. However I was fortunate to be sharing the evening with Liam Giles from SpinDogs, who gave a very detailed account of what emerging digital media we are seeing in the world of marketing. We also heard from Peter Gwyn Williams from e-Crime Wales, who shared his in depth and technical knowledge about how, where and to what extent we are open to e-Crime.
I however was more drawn to another topic, Digital Identity Management. A topic I am consistently observing that is a consequence of our growing use of digital and social technologies, technologies that not only function because of our use of them but because of the sophisticated functions they have that aid the vendors who own them in the collection, storage and analysis of our usage data. The topic I decided to cover was about Digital Identity Management, especially as it pertained to digital social technologies. For me it is not the illegal black market identity thief that worries me, but the legal businesses to whom we give all our data – freely, easily and increasingly.
Data is the Currency of Now!
“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!” (TANSTAAFL) is something we should always keep in mind as we sign up to the next new FREE social networking site or share our family or friend photos on the latest and coolest visual platform for photo blogging. Don’t get me wrong, I love what social technologies are doing for business, education, arts, politics and the very essence of the values that the advocate users of them find dear – like community, sharing, engagement. Being part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and in this we can have a voice. no matter how young, old, small, big, talented, poor, rich or controlled.
However in all this ‘opportunity’ let’s us not forget, that many of these social technologies are a business. A business built on large data sets or user data and expert analysts who provide the insight for business decision making in their use. Yes, they offer free access to users share information with friends, colleagues and the wider market. But somewhere we do pay. We pay by giving away gigabyes and terabytes of data, about ourselves, our family, our friends, our organizations and our communities. All for FREE!
A smart company is a data driven company. From this data, Google, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, Blogger, MySpace, Ning … the list goes on … collate, analyse, segment, and share the data. Often it is shared with shareholders or internal stakeholders for corporate decision making – to improve the services you are using. But it is also shared with external stakeholders (like advertisers, market researchers) to improve the supply and demand for other fee-paying services and/or information that actually finance these social technologies. However it is also shared with other parties, paying clients or businesses interested not in you, or your values or the service you are using to improve the service, but the money they can make from your data. Our social behaviour is just as much a part of our identity as our name, address and post code is. When you add differing types of data together, you get a much richer and commercially attractive product – a data asset. This is very much reminisce of the Tesco Clubcard business model in the UK. However what is different is a) we don’t get a coupon for it; and b) the data is richer because of the addition of digital social network data. A type of data much richer than any grocery shopping panel data Tesco has ever collected.
Take Facebook as an example. Facebook search is Bing indexed, so our data and information is shared with Microsoft. Every Application (App) we’ve given permission to interact with our Facebook profile has also been given access to our data. We rarely get the choice on ‘what’ data we authorise to share, more often it is just a yes/no decision. If we use an App on our mobile phone to sync with our Facebook profile, it is not just the data we enter that is shared between our phone and our profile on the Facebook servers, it is also our location information through GPS and the telephone numbers of our friends that suddenly appear on the Friends list of our profile. This information (and much more) Facebook and advertisers use to cleverly target users with contextualised advertising matched to the keywords in the status update you just posted and to sell in various formats to finance the very service we have applauded for being FREE!
Awareness : Education : Responsibility
So what did I recommend in my talk? I didn’t recommend not using these services. Quite the contrary I love the use of them, but advocate an informed use, especially in organizations where use of them is increasingly being mandated. I recommended three key things critical for effective and responsible use of digital social technologies in both our personal and professional lives. Three things we should take account of during our use of them and are ongoing. As the technologies develops so too should our:
- Awareness. As users be aware of our own activities with/through social technologies, and the data we are potentially freely sharing with anyone and everyone. Googling yourself is an example of how you can remain aware of what information is publicly available about you, your family or your organization.
- Education. As users, be active in our education (and that of our staff/employees) in how social technologies function so we can use them both effectively and responsibly, especially in the privacy settings each may have; and our rights as users.
- Responsibility. As users take full responsibility for the data and information we share through/with social technologies. In this I mean not just the data/information we are sharing about ourselves, but increasingly the data and information we are sharing about our friends, family, colleagues, workplace and wider social network. Policies and guidelines are well and good, but it is a feeling of personal/professional responsibility that truly regulates behaviour.
Continuing the Conversation
For the many years now I have observed and interacted with people in both professional and personal contexts as they have used and learnt about digital and social technologies. And like many people, I too am still learning the implications of this era of social technologies on both our personal and professional selves. But one thing we should not stop doing is talking about it. No one is an expert in this space, and the only way to share learnings about the management of a our digital identities (and especially that of our children) is to talk about it more and in more detail.
At the end of the evening we were asked a number of questions. Below I have provided my responses.
1. What can an individual do if someone is being slanderous about them in a digital social space?
Peter Gwyn Williams from e-Crime Wales gave a really good response to this question. “Take a screen capture of it, contact them to inform them you have evidence of their behaviour and then report them to the authorities”. Obviously this has a lot to do with jurisdiction and given the geographic fluidity of activity in digital channels, it is often difficult to bring to account people who are not contactable, unknown or reside in a different jurisdiction to your own. However libel, a false, malicious statement published in mainstream media (i.e. on the internet, in a magazine, etc.) is a very serious offence, and should be brought to the attention of the host/service providers of any social community or network for breach of the networks terms and conditions.
2. What is going on in the education/sector and schools to help educate children?
A lot is and isn’t going on. In my opinion it is not so much the children we need to focus in terms of digital literacy and awareness, but the teachers and the educational system so that it is more open to learning about, with and through social technologies. Banning Facebook, Myspace and mobiles is not the answer. Have a dialogue about it with children, in front of children and between members of the educational community (be that parents, teachers, regulators) is. Here is a link to a World Summit on Media for Children and Youth that was held in Sweden this year or the annual Digital Media Learning conference in the US. Having more ‘educators and teachers’ attend forums like these is critical to educating the educators about social technologies and their role on the world of youth.
3. What would I advise as an example of corporate policy for the use of social technologies?
I prefer the word guidelines to policies. Policies are very static, where as guidelines are fluid and can adapt as the technological context changes. I always advocate an organic approach, where guidelines for social technology use come from within the company, informed by the staff and personnel who are contracted to adhere to them. So they come out of discussion and debate as to what is and isn’t responsible behaviour. But often this is difficult in very large corporate multinationals. In this I’d turn to example of practice in other organizations for learning and a point of debate for their suitability or adaptation within your own organization. One large complex organization whom I think many organizations can learn from in terms of stakeholder guidance over the use of social technologies is the US Army. In early 2011 they released their Social Media Handbook on Slideshare for all to read. With over 90,000 views it is probably one of the most read social media guides available and is very detailed. MediaSnackers have also conducted a podcast interview with SSG Dale Sweetnam, the non-comissioned officer in charge of the US Army’s online and social media division.
Digital and social technologies are affording us and our organizations many new freedoms in communications and information sharing. But with freedom also comes responsibility, not just for the service providers or owners of the social technologies. But our own responsibility in our own behaviour in what we share, to whom, about whom, how and and where.
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