The Watchmen
08h54 Thursday, 17th March 2011


There has been a lot of people fired or suspended over what they had tweeted or what they posted as their Facebook status — I know in America and other western countries it is common — but I am reading a lot about it now in South Africa, which makes sense these two (twitter and facebook) mediums have taken centre stage.

As justified as an employer is in firing somebody that brings their company in 'bad light', I think they should hold back their triggers and rather try to understand or rather learn from what they are now preview to.

Imagine a time before interactive social media was mainstream — no employer could know what their employees really think of them, unless one of the employees rats a colleague out; or a mistaken reply-to-all email reaches the corridors of power.

With the advent of interactive social media — an employer has a greater chance of knowing what one of their employees is thinking, almost all of the time. You know those pub drinking sessions talking about how miserable the pay is; how stupid our manager or CEO really is? Well, with social media those conversations tend to happen in real-time and are 'stored' permanently, well, almost — facebook and twitter store the data but may not be possible to archive your entire history.

We are in a phase where any company can monitor what you are saying online — and to some degree dictate what you say. Which is all good and dandy in the context of brand management (public relations and/or propaganda) — but I think it is a flawed strategy for three reasons:

  1. When somebody applies to work for a company they tender in their professional services to that company for an exchange of payment, i.e a salary — their personal attributes allows them to remain productive within the working environment but after 5pm they are no longer a slave to it; (of course if you are a brand ambassador your job is to be good to the brand until the contract expires) — so individuals are rather secular state-ish;
  2. Companies are ruining an opportunity to gain insight into the 'true' psyche of the people they have hired — if an employee is no longer engaged at work, you could get an insight to why they are under performing by knowing what is going on in theirs lives; what their gripes is with your company; if you want to keep them as a resource then the company can put remedial processes in place: training; promotions; re-positioning whatever the human resources teams recommends;
  3. If companies persist to keep monitoring your activities — one is inclined to go underground — become anonymous and that would not work well for the idea of 'social media'.

Over and above all this — there is fundamental understanding that employers need to embrace — social media is like the response a person makes in traffic and somebody cuts you off:

It is transient — it never forever and thus an employer needs not to overreact — yes, the whole world might know one of your employers made a racist joke but that person is the best designer there is in the world — and if we truly believe in reconciliation: every racists deserves the chance to change their mind — banishing one is not the solution to creating harmony.

But, then again loss in profit overrides reason.

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