privacyNow that Google and Bing will start adding tweets and Facebook updates to search, I’m sure we’ll have more debates on privacy – particularly, ‘Facebook updates being in Google search’ part. Though it is restricted to only your friends/ network, it still may cause privacy ripples, when (albeit relevant) advertising piggybacks on it.

Thinking about all this talk on privacy…what about privacy of organizations? It is usually the phrase transparency that is confused when it comes to organizational privacy. Now, why would an organization want privacy…online?

The reasons could be similar to that of an individual – privacy of employees (individual: employment), competitive information (individual: thoughts and opinion that are valuable), information pertaining to specific timelines and also information that could cause affect the brand image, with or without malicious intent on part of the organization. The ‘with malicious intent’ part is something that needs to be exposed but there’s no golden rule for doing so, by the organization or by anybody.

The point is, organizations do need privacy online too. And what we call transparency is nothing but carefully and thoughtfully filtered information; so in essence, it takes into account the privacy part.

Being an open organization with a web 2.0 (aargh, that phrase again!) outlook where you get your employees to tweet and share updates on a real-time website is perfectly fine, but organizations do need to work on effective filters which could help them save not just money (revenue loss), but also their face.

There’s an old rule of thumb for how to avoid embarrassment online, for individuals – never post anything online that you wouldn’t share with your priest or your mother. Would the equivalent constituents for organizations be employees and shareholders/ stakeholders? No, not from a with-holding information perspective, but from the fact that such information should not be made public and a closed, direct communication should be prioritized.

The other problem is with social media enabling hierarchical dissonance, in the view of the social public.

Just because a blogger has met the marketing head of a company or the CEO of another (in whatever context), it doesn’t mean he/ she can reach out to them for deals on their products. Marketing Heads (and obviously CEOs) have many other things to do – like managing the marketing activity (or running a company), to begin with. Every organization has many public fronts through which it interacts with its customers – current or prospective. Social media engagement does not replace those channels – it merely complements them. So, posing a question to the CEO you met, via the twitter profile of the company is nothing but intrusion of privacy.

Organizations have their limits – as regards bandwidth to handle queries/ comments on social media. Transparency and privacy should not be confused with a free-for-all organization where the entire team running the show becomes answerable and accountable to the social public, for whatever reason/ requirement. There are varying levels of escalation, just like individuals have varying levels of tolerance.

One of the critical requirements of a corporate communication team or a communication vendor handling social media communication is to set the boundaries of organizational privacy – without confusing transparency or compromising honesty.

Picture courtesy: bejealousofme via Flickr

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