You will never get my Facebook password. Never.

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A lot has been going around lately about employers asking job candidates for their Facebook passwords. Apparently they’d really like to be able to nose around a little, see what you’re into, who you’re friends with and such like that. I’ve never met anyone who has had this happen to them, but it doesn’t surprise me to hear that it is happening.

Employers have strange ideas about where their place is in relation to their employees. We’ve seen many cases where employers have attempted to gain access to employees’ LinkedIn profiles, their personal email accounts and more — all under the guise of protecting their business. And in nearly every case that’s been brought to court, judges have sided with employees.

See, there’s a fundamental expectation of privacy one has when using their own email, Twitter, Facebook…whatever. Yes, everything I do on any social network can be made private to the whole world. But that doesn’t mean it has to be. I choose who to share with, and when to share it.

To be honest, I have nothing on Facebook I’d be embarrassed of — and that isn’t the point. I don’t trust Facebook itself, and so I choose to refrain from sharing too much of a personal nature there. I don’t allow others to post on my wall, don’t overshare, and use it primarily for keeping track of old schoolmates. Even so, would I allow an employer to peek into it, even once?

Not a chance.

We don’t bring our personal mail in for our bosses’ perusal, do we? We don’t deliver our cellphone bills to them to look over who we’re calling. And we don’t give them audio recordings of our dinner tables at night. There’s a reason for that: It’s none of their business.

Sure, an employer may be worried about what types of things their employees post on Facebook, and if your job candidate is found to have blasted their ex-job repeatedly and publicly, it could give you pause. But courts have ruled several times that Facebook postings are protected under free-speech provisions — even if they are negative statements about the workplace.

The bottom line: If anyone asks for your password, the answer is no. Always.

Social media experts really don’t understand social media.

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There. I said it.

I follow way too many social media experts on Twitter. Too many folks who want to teach your company how to be successful in social media. They promise you heaps of good fortune with your Facebook page and they’re super excited to do your tweeting for you as well. There’s a whole industry now built around these folks, and regardless what they call themselves, they really have no idea what they’re doing. If they did, they wouldn’t be doing it.

Social media platforms weren’t really designed for business; they were designed so folks like you and me could connect with each other, share little things and basically keep in touch — in a superficial, but somehow meaningful, way. As these sites attract users, they also attract businesses — especially those who want the Internet equivalent of a storefront on Main Street.

Problem is, the goals of a business and the goals of an individual in social media are severely different. I choose to use Twitter to connect with folks, whether I know them in real life or not. Facebook is the place where I maintain a loose connection with old classmates. LinkedIn is for keeping in touch with colleagues. Businesses, on the other hand, use social media for two reasons. Those who do it closest to correct use social media to respond to customer complaints, join conversations about the brand, monitor chatter about themselves. But the majority are there to sell.

I can already hear you: “OMG, Dan. What’s wrong with that lol?”

The problem is companies and organizations overestimate their customers’ desire to engage with them. Sure, I love Pepsi and my BlackBerry. I follow both on Twitter. But I don’t engage with them. I don’t remember the last thing I read from either company. But that’s not the point…

Remember in high school how you and your friends found that perfect spot to hang out? No parents or cops or teachers…it was a place where you’d sit back, chat, maybe even sneak a couple of dad’s beers and share them in the summertime. That’s how most social media sites start. They’re little clubs where the cool kids hang out.

Imagine you’re at your little hangout and suddenly a McDonald’s opens 20 feet away. And then the AT&T store opens next to it. And an auto dealership. And 30 social media experts open storefronts, all surrounding you. Suddenly you can’t even talk to your friends without wading through all these businesses, and they all keep trying to get your attention. And of course your parents and teachers show up, because they’ve all heard your hangout is cool. After awhile, you and your friends just decide to find another place.

That’s what social media experts are bringing to social media.

Myspace was cool at first. Everyone connected with each other. You kept in touch. You shared pictures and songs and everybody was happy. Bands all wanted Myspace profiles, because it made getting a web presence easy. Then businesses all wanted to be on Myspace, because that’s where the kids were.

Where’s Myspace today? Overrun by businesses, musicians and celebrities. My own band still has a page there, and our only friend requests come from TV shows, movies and businesses. It’s over, people. Businesses are just standing around in Myspace land, begging each other to buy.

The same is happening on Twitter and Facebook, where social media experts, in order to keep themselves in jobs, continue to push the importance of a business being involved in social media. Unfortunately, that one little fact shows just how little they understand about social media, and their own role in destroying it, one site at a time.

The sad part is that I agree that companies need to have Twitter and Facebook accounts. I think we’ve come to a point where you’re silly if you don’t. But never once have I seen anyone point out just how bad businesses are for social media. Our social media experts never say “Listen, we should be on Twitter, but we have to realize our mere existence on Twitter will surely hasten Twitter’s demise.”

That, folks, would be an honest, and knowledgeable, expert. Anyone out there ever heard that? I bet not.

Why you should delete your Facebook account (and why I wish I could delete mine)

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It may be piling on, but I can’t be quiet about Facebook anymore. I don’t want to be there and if I could, I’d have been gone ages ago. But if you can get out, I suggest you do so now…before it’s too late.

Let’s break it down:

Back in the beginning, Facebook seemed so…friendly. It was an exclusive club, open only to students. And it felt so much cleaner than the MySpace cesspool. Everyone was eager to join Facebook, and as soon as Zuckerberg opened the doors, millions streamed in. Now Facebook is the biggest, baddest social network on the block…a nation of 350 million unto itself. Problem is, this isn’t just a social network of your friends, and you aren’t just sharing your photos, antics, likes and dislikes and your bathroom habits with your buddies. You’re sharing them with Facebook itself. And Facebook isn’t laughing with you or consoling you; it’s making money off of you.

We knew that, didn’t we? I mean, Facebook is a business. But it really hasn’t been apparent to most of us just how Facebook was going to make money outside apps and ads. In plain English: Zuckerberg is selling access to your “private” information to other companies. There’s no “stupid” or “blind” ad network serving up ads. Facebook is a recon mission; you are the target. It’s a brilliantly executed social engineering plan, wherein Facebook earns your trust, gets you to tell all your dirty secrets, and then sells you out. So…basically the Linda Tripp of social media platforms.

That should scare the crap out of you. Especially given Zuckerberg’s track record with private information.

On Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile, he lists his personal interests as “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism.” That all sounds pretty good, right? But how open is Zuckerberg? Let’s just say his profile updates are generally about his company, and he has a total of 40 pictures uploaded on his account. He wants you to share things that he won’t. That says a lot to me.

I count myself lucky that I’ve never been a fan of oversharing. My own Facebook account has precious little on it…a couple of pictures, a few updates, a sparse bio…and that’s how I wanted it from the beginning. I can’t trust a service that wants too much access to my life and, frankly, neither to the hundreds of “friends” one can accumulate on Facebook in a short period of time. But it only takes five minutes browsing lamebook.com to realize there are a bajillion Facebook users who have no problem posting anything and everything they can think of. And as the entire web becomes a Facebook application, even more of your information is going to be stored in the Facebook brain.

Drop the Kool-Aid and run.

Facebook is like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. That’s because the second you upload or post anything, Facebook owns it. And now Facebook’s Open Graph API means Facebook even owns your online habits. I’ve been stunned over the past few weeks to hear folks talk about leaving Facebook, deleting all their embarrassing pictures and disabling their accounts. But disabling and deleting are not the same thing. If you’ve disabled your account, you can still be tagged in photos and notes, you still get update e-mails and if you log back in at any time, it’s like you never left. If you want to delete your account, instructions are here.

Twitter: Where nobody is really *just* a follower

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In a matter of a couple of weeks, Conan O’Brien has managed to cause a huge stir, just by signing up for a Twitter account. He’s already up to 670,000 followers, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

I can understand why he’s got so many followers; the guy’s already got fans, and they’re dying to know where he’s going to end up. The question is, does Conan actually use Twitter? I’m gonna go ahead and say no. Why? Because he only follows one person. Just one. I find it doubtful that Conan takes a look at his Twitter feed just to see updates from Sarah Killen (no offense, Sarah).

Perhaps he logs in and takes a look at trending topics. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that he searches for Conan references. But he’s certainly not using Twitter to discuss anything. He’s not engaged in it; he’s just posting little nuggets when he feels like it.

That’s fine, if you’re Conan O’Brien. Or Oprah. Or even Kevin Rose. But what about the rest of us?

Do you feel like you’re tweeting into a void? Do you post questions that don’t get answers? Do you respond to people and never hear back?

That’s okay. Me too.

I’m by no means a Twitter rock star. I have a couple hundred followers, and generally I follow back. That’s just my MO. I’m always hopeful that if you’re following me, we’ll share some common interests, so I’ll give you a shot. Sometimes I look at your timeline first. If it’s filled with porn or inane comments about your lunch, I’m probably going to take a pass. I try to be “social.” I’ll respond when I’m inclined. Unless I get super busy I skim my entire timeline every day. But what I’ve noticed is there are literally a handful of people who will actually “converse” with me. Some of them I know in real life; some only through Twitter. And here’s the thing: The more followers/followees a person has, the less likely they are to respond to you.

Duh, right? Of course, they just might not see your response. They’re popular! They follow a lot of people! They probably have so many responses they couldn’t possibly get to yours too!

Nah. Look, it’s easy enough to get all your @s. And if you aren’t responding, what are you doing?

Fake following. It’s impossible to follow 10,000 people on Twitter. Impossible. It’s not only impossible, but impractical. If you were to try it wouldn’t be fun.

The biggest perpetrators of fake following are “social media experts” and salespeople (sometimes — often — they’re the same). They’re the ones telling you how to get 10,000 followers in two weeks. They’re the ones telling you to hire them to boost your social media presence, because hey!, they’ve got a LOT of followers!

What they count on is that you won’t see how many people they’re following. And that number is usually astronomical, because they’re the types who randomly follow 100 or 1000 people at a time and just see how many followbacks they get.  And then they mistake their follower numbers as “authority” or “influence,” which means they can spam you to death with their blog posts — or just use your status as a follower to prove their own popularity.

Here’s my advice: Be careful out there. Don’t ruin your own Twitter experience by getting caught up in the numbers game. It’s not really about how many people are following you, but about how many people care about what you have to say. It’s not about how many people you follow, but how many people say things that interest you. Keep it legit, and everything will fall into place.

Some great articles on this point:
Hypocritical Mass: The Big Lie About Twitter
Twitter Zombies
Words of, uh wisdom: How to score more Twitter followers

And to keep up with me, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter. Lol.

Part II: Why HR can’t fix your crappy employees, either

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You may have seen my post on why blocking access to social networking sites (or even the Internet as a whole) won’t make your employees more productive. But every company attacks its fear of social media with the same two swords: IT and HR.

If there are reasons why IT can’t wholesale ban certain sites or block Internet access for employees (because, say, the company actually uses Twitter and Facebook, or Internet access is an essential part of the job), the next move is always the Human Resources department. Cuz you need a policy.

You need a policy to keep your employees from tarnishing your good name on Facebook. You need to keep them from Twittering the company’s dirty little secrets — like your habit of counting every minute they waste while you take 90-minute lunches and chat on the phone to your aunt in Idaho. You need to keep them from embarrassing the company with pictures of the boss’s drunken antics at the office mixer, or embarrassing the company by posting pictures of themselves in private but unbecoming situations.

You do need that policy, don’t you?

Drop the task force and back away from the case law.

You don’t really need a policy. In fact, a policy probably doesn’t make all that much sense.  If you’ve got an ethics policy or a code of conduct, anything an employee can do on Twitter is likely covered. Giving away trade secrets, bad-mouthing company policies or execs, engaging in illegal activity…those things should already be covered. If they aren’t, you’ve got bigger problems than Twitter.

If an employee ran down the street in a drunken stupor cursing out your CEO, would he have a job the next day? Probably not. Same rule applies to behavior on social media sites.

So how do you keep employees from bad-mouthing the company on their blogs or Facebook? Short answer? You can’t. The truth is, rules almost never stop a person from doing what they’re set on doing — especially if they’re worked up enough about an issue. Murder is illegal, but people get killed every day. You can make a policy against complaining about the company online, but all that policy allows you to do is fire the employee. And you know what? They’ve already said what they were going to say, and they’ll say a lot more when they don’t work for you anymore.

Instead of a policy prohibiting certain behaviors, consider educating your employees about why certain activities aren’t just bad for the company, but bad for them as individuals as well. Show them how hiring decisions are made and how many employers now search through Twitter and Facebook for profiles of job applicants. Make sure they know that oversharing is dangerous for their well-being — not just yours.

It’s a scary world out there. And it’s certainly scary to think a disgruntled employee could spew hate about your company to thousands of people at any given time. But as I’ve said before, hire people you trust. Treat them like adults. Give them the trust they deserve. Instead of bashing you publicly, they’re likely to start praising you. And there’s no better endorsement than one that’s sincere.

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