Job Whisperer

It may be hard to remember, but during the first year of the blog in mid-2007 to 2008, there was barely a mention of social media and its impact in the workplace.  Just a single reference in January 2008 noting that with sites like Myspace (!), “employees from around the country can share information instantly, making it much easier to figure out if there are trends associated with the layoff that may give rise to a lawsuit.”

Then, in September 2008, I talked about how employers were considering using those sites to “screen” potential candidates for employment.   I suggested against it at the time.  But what I also suggested back then is that employers needed to recognize the sites’ growing influence.

Yes, some college grads put some boasts on their site, but Facebook has moved so quickly into the mainstream that many people are using it as a communication tool, far removed from their college years.

That was just five years ago, but really, it feels so much longer than that.

Flash forward to today.  91 percent of American own cell phones.  63 percent of those owners use their cell phones to go online, mainly through apps used on devices like the iPhone.  As a September 2013 Pew Internet study found, a majority of Americans “now owns a smartphone, and mobile devices are playing an increasingly central role in the way that Americans access online services and information.”

Social media accounts for a significant portion of that usage.  89 percent (!) of 18-29 year olds online use social networking sites.  Even among 30-49 year olds, that percentage is 78 percent.

But what sites are they using and how?

You’ve no doubt heard of YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  Maybe Foursquare and Google+ (poor Google).   And if you’ve been following the blog, you know that Instagram (a photo sharing site) and Vine (a video sharing site) are growing in influence as well.  But what about everything else?

When I spoke to a group of people last week, a few wore their ignorance of social media as a badge of honor.  But in my view, employers ought to understand the scope of the issue; they may not need to use all the sites, but it’s only when you understand how much is out there that you begin to appreciate the scope of the social media issue.

Take, for example, Whisper to which I referenced yesterday. A few people responded, “huh?”

Whisper is free iOS and Android app that lets you “share secrets anonymously and connect to people around you through shared experiences”.   Notably, the “hashtag” or keyword that is one of the most popular is “#myjob”.  It allows people to share their thoughts on their job.  Like the person who posted “I love my job but my boss is making life miserable. I hate her for this.”

Of course, since you are encouraged to share “secrets” about “your job” – it’s inviting the type of information breach employers should be worrying about.  And with millions of users and 2.5 BILLION page views a month, that’s a lot of secrets.

Or take Snapchat, which allows users to “snap” a photo and set an automatic expiration date on the photo before sharing with another user.  Think: Mission Impossible’s “This message will self destruct in….”.

But here’s the thing: Over 150 MILLION photos a day get shared.  Even if just .1 percent of those photos were work-related, that’s still 150,000 photos a DAY.  And there’s no doubt that employees are sharing them.

And what kind of photos get shared on this “temporary social media”?  Let’s just say that yearbook photos are the least likely to be shared. And some may show a little more skin than you’re used to.

There are plenty of other messaging and social networking sites out there too.  Look at Apple’s App Store.  There’s Kik Messenger, Whats App, Pinterest, Viber, Tumblr, Line, WeChat, Keek, Skout….

You get the idea.

So put aside the document retention issues or the discovery in a lawsuit issues.  How is an employer supposed to keep up with a technology that allows for it to be deleted almost immediately on sending?

The answer goes back to the point I made yesterday. It’s difficult.  You can’t block this information anymore but you can’t ignore this anymore.

It’s time for your Plan B.  Because, if you’re an employer, your ignorance is not bliss.  It just means you’ll have more catching up to do down the road.   Your employees, managers and counsel all need to get together on this. Because if your attorneys are still focusing on the dangers of MySpace, that’s so 2008.