This is not always a bad thing, and is implicit in the employment deal struck between many individuals and their employers.  Many, but not all, jobs are very dependent upon your ability to interact with other people outwith your own company; clients, suppliers, candidates, government bodies etc etc. Before the advent of social media, companies would maintain their own databases of these contacts, and protect them fiercely whenever an employee left their organisation.  Usually these databases are guraded by a non-compete, or confidentiality clause in an employment contract, that may prevent an individual from making contact with former customers, or revealing commercially sensitive information.  Now I agree wholeheartedly with open networks, but believe that companies should be more concerned about the unpaid leverage they are extorting from employees by making them use their personal brand in this way.  In fact it’s not unlike Amway making sales staff drum up business from friends and family.  I believe this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media works, or more dangerously, a wilful denial of their implicit exploitation of employees.

Conversely however, employers might be better tasked to instruct employees NOT to expose their business networks to others (including competitors) by adding their entire client list to their personal networks on Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.  Any decent recruiter knows how to uncover clients and candidates from the unprotected networks of rivals at other firms.  Employers, who are cagey about sharing information, should instead invest in their own secure system.  Also, whilst I think it would be a retrograde step, I can envisage the growth of company specific social media accounts – for example @Vodafone_Stephen on Twitter, or a separate account on Linkedin (yes it is against Linkedin’s policy).

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Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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