Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Be careful what you post, it could lose you your job!

Mainstream Article, Personal Online Branding

Power to the people
What you say affects how big corporations are viewed, or at least it can now. A single disgruntled employee never used to be able to make a difference, but Internet publishing combined with search technology has changed all that. Imagine you are considering buying a car. You search on the car make and safety and find the blog of an employee. They are saying that the manufacturer's safety claims are a sham and the vehicles are unsafe. This might affect your view of the cars they sell and your inclination to buy from them. It might do this even though you have no way of knowing if this person has really ever worked for them, or does in fact work for their competitor who is having real issues with sales. This does pass power to the little people in a way that any revolutionary should approve. in the same way the provision of cheap guns gave every American, no matter how frail, the power to kill any other America (now there is real equality) so Internet publishing allows anyone, no matter how poor the power to sling large volumes of mud at anyone else even the mega corporations and the super rich.

In the same way this lead to gun regulation laws this is leading to online regulation. The thing is that like concealed weapons you cannot always spot the poster. This has lead to the equivalent of the Wild West saloons that made you leave your weapons at the door. Companies these days have policies which regulate what their employees can say about them. It will not solve the problem, but it is at least as good as a sign saying to leave your weapons or we will not serve you. Clearly the terrorists who are posting do it anonymously making them harder to sue for libel (or if they are real terrorists then for the authorities to catch).

Companies also have to take into account the fact that the Internet and search is becoming a corporate research tool, so what is said online may affect their business to business sales just as much as their more retail sales. Online branding is much too large a topic for me to look at now, but this corporate research does draw our attention to the other side of the same coin. A company who is hiring will search for the candidate online to see what they can find out.

What's in a name?
It is easy to think you know what your reputation is without seeing how you look online. Recently I did a search for myself online. What I found was pretty much what I expected, with one or two notable exceptions. I show up an awful lot because of a few anagrams I posted to a friend's site. Not a problem, but it makes me look like an anagram fanatic when I have very little interest in such things. Also I am viewed as knowing a lot about the web and web analytics (no surprises there). When I searched I could not see my latest blog entry. I wondered whether Google might have lumped blogs with other sort of groups, so I did a search on groups.

I was surprised how much of my old postings were still available. I was even more surprised that in my youth I had fairly sensible opinions on most things. Still more surprising was that my name was listed against a whole slew of postings I had not made. It turns out that a quotation from me had found its way into someone's online signature. Every post they made for a while (and they were fairly prolific) included my name at the bottom. Fortunately they were not an online vandal spouting continuous invective, so it is probably not a black mark against my reputation, but it easily could have been.

The obvious question is does it really matter? Sadly the answer is yes. As shows it can make a real difference. Admittedly the American who brought the case to our attention was foolish to admit publicly that he had been misusing his employer’s property, but the same thing or close to it could come out of your battle with your neighbour over his/your lawnmower. Once people start throwing mud no one looks good, and you could look very bad for something that was not your fault at all. It is a sad fact that in the near future your employability for any reasonably skilled task will involve a web search and you need to understand and control what it will show.

I am thinking of putting together a series on understanding how you are viewed online and how to affect it. To this end I am going to start experimenting with my personal online branding. Suggestions are most welcome. My first experiment is that I am going to start publishing these blog articles more frequently and take a few simple steps to get them noticed. At this point I have one person who reliably looks at this blog (me). My first milestone will be when it has been viewed by at least 10 people I have never met. I have picked a low number because I have no idea how difficult or otherwise this will be. Equally I have yet to decide how I will monitor the numbers seeing it, so a small test seems the way forward.

Again, suggestions welcome.

So as to make sure that that this page shows up on a search for my name (once I persuade the search engines this blog is worth indexing) I am going to mention that I will be looking for people to do a search for "rufus evison", and I will probably start siging my posts once I have determined what sort of signature I should use.

Oh, and if you can link to this post or any of the others on here that would help, thanks,


P.S. If you are thinking of writing a corporate blogging policy you could do worse than look at and follow the guidelines lower down the page.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Commitment can make a difference.

I am currently (together with Coralie) buying a house. In order to do this we are selling 3 houses. I am also changing jobs. I start at the new company (dunnhumby) on the 13th of August. Because of this I would have liked to move houses on the weekend of the 9th, 10th, 11th (pack, move, unpack). This was possible. I was told when I suggested the dates that it was very ambitious as we were still looking for a buyer for our joint residence.

In order to allow me to commit to the date I made a suggestion to the person selling us a house. The suggestion was that he agree to rent us the house in the case that we did not complete by the 10th. The idea was that we would either pay a peppercorn rent which he would keep or a full rent with a return of monies upon completion. Sadly he (in common with Coralie were she in his position) did not want to go for it.

I could have decided that I was committed to that date and gone for it regardless. I would have been risking thousands of pounds (about three thousand in fact) as I would have had to arrange the removals and so forth with the risk that we might have to stay behind and not move.

As it was Coralie (probably wisely) was not keen on the idea. The only thing that is preventing us moving on my chosen date is that we were not committed enough to arrange the movers. They are no longer available for then and we are moving later.

Had I been committed to the date we would have moved. Had our seller trusted my commitment he might have agreed to let us rent, knowing it would not happen, and allowing us the certainty to commit.

My conclusion: Sometimes commitment is all that is required to change the way things go.

I do not like to make a commitment without a backup plan. My suggestion would have provided a backup plan, a safety net if you like, and that would have allowed me to make the leap. Without making the leap a trapeze artist cannot leave the swing. Was I wrong to want a safety net? I do not think so. Was I wrong not to make my commitment so clear that the vendor knew I was not planning on using the safety net? In a way, yes I was. Not in the sense that I made a mistake, but in the sense that I failed to make myself clear. I am not sure what I needed to do to be convincing, but I will be trying to find out, so that next time I can let go of the trapeze with confidence.