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Companies scrambling to exploit social networks, silence errant messages

Staff Report • May 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

According to BusinessWeek Zachary Weiner, the CEO of Chicago boutique ad agency Luxuryreach, has had quite a time in social networking land of late. Recent adventures include employees twittering about how demanding Weiner is, how hung over they feel, and how "totally not into" the client they are. Then there's the worker and her boyfriend who are lobbing character assassinations, sexual insults, and details of their therapy sessions at each other on Facebook. "I can't lie, I'd almost like to hear how it ends," says Weiner. "It's entertaining."Entertaining, yes. But for executives worried about their companies' reputations, oh so terrifying. Every day it seems there's yet another social networking scandal breaking out, like the viral sensation of the woman who tweeted: "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." Or the Ketchum public-relations exec who said of client FedEx's hometown: "I would die if I had to live here!"Social networking is a love-hate relationship. On the one hand managers want their workers to experiment so they can cultivate new-world skills. Employees as brand ambassadors! Products virally transformed into overnight hits! On the other hand, bosses are filled with foreboding about social networking's dark side—losing secrets to rivals, the corporate embarrassment of errant employee tweets, becoming the latest victim of a venomous crowd. "Employees are saying, 'I need these solutions to be productive,' and the security and legal guys are saying, 'This could really explode, and we could really have a problem on our hands,' " says Intel Chief Information Officer Diane Bryant. "You can talk yourself into all sorts of doomsday scenarios."IBM's GuidelinesThat's why many companies are formulating policies that seek to strike the right balance. Some, like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, block employee access to certain social sites. Enterprise also keeps a sharp eye out for employees' online musings. "If you mention the company or [a fellow] employee in a post, chances are someone will see it," says Christy Conrad, vice-president for corporate communications. Her team relies on Google Alerts to get updates each time someone includes certain words in a post. Other companies, such as Zappos.com, take a laissez-faire approach. CLICK HERE for the full report.

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