How Facebook mucks up office life

Managing a workforce is already a challenging job; now Facebook and other social networks raise a host of sticky new situations.

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(This is less of a problem for older users who have "different social inhibition mechanisms," as Argast puts it -- in other words, they're not as comfortable with revealing personal information to online acquaintances.)

Even the cautious among us are likely to be friends with former colleagues who now work for competitors, and those innocuous relationships can potentially cause problems.

Imagine you've just had an innocent lunch with a former co-worker and discussed joining her fantasy baseball league. You come back to find a post on your wall that reads, "Great talking to you, and I'll be sure to let you know if there are any openings."

What kind of rumors will that start among your staff and colleagues?

Information travels too far

The currency of Facebook is the information that friends choose to share with one another -- status updates, wall posts, external Web links, photos, videos, survey results, application feeds, and comments on all of the above.

The unending flow of data from friends and supposed friends can easily get out of hand -- who among us hasn't 86ed a friend who cluttered our feeds with inane chatter about whether their baby was napping or awake?

But the real problem isn't the nature of the information but the fact that the structure of Facebook makes it easy for information to spread beyond the people it was intended for.

Say a Facebook user posts a funny picture of a cat. If one of her friends -- your employee, as it turns out -- comments "LOL," there's no harm done. But what if your employee instead writes, "thanks. i rilly needed a laugh this morning -- everyone here is freaking cuz our servers are down." Suddenly lots of people she may not know, and you certainly don't, are now aware of your company's technical difficulties, all in lightning-quick Internet time.

A simple change of settings can solve many vulnerabilities -- that is, choosing to show profile, basic info, personal info, photos and so forth only to "Friends" rather than Facebook's other options ("Friends of Friends," "My Networks and Friends," or the truly indiscriminate "Everyone.")

Facebook privacy options
Choose "Only Friends" to keep your Facebook profile information as private as possible.

But the real problem with Facebook (and all social media), says Filiberto Selvas, a social media consultant and author of the Social CRM blog, is that people jump into using them without really understanding how they work.

If you or your employees haven't taken the time to explore the social network site's privacy controls, then "you don't have any idea of who is connected to whom on the other side," warns Selvas. "Once you put in the content, it may not be under your control any more."

The consequences of letting the wrong people see embarrassing photos or inappropriate postings have gotten a lot of attention in the media, but users' awareness may be lagging behind.

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