Where Are We Headed with Facebook in Business?

Where Are We Headed with Facebook in Business?

I have a question.

I’ve written about the future of Facebook in project environments before, and I don’t hate the idea. But lately, I’ve been seeing so much “stuff” about Facebook that makes me wonder where we’re going. I know for sure we’re going somewhere, but I can’t see the destination.

If you search for PapercutPM on Facebook, you’ll find me. I reserved a page, but there’s nothing on it, and there’s a reason for that. A friend of mine’s sister tagged him in a photo where he’s drunk and passed out in a bathtub…the picture is twenty years old. My friend asked his sister to untag him, which she did, but that didn’t stop many of his friends from seeing the photo and commenting. He has work contacts on his Facebook page who could have seen the photo while it was up there. He was very upset.

I felt that was fairly cautionary. My twenties were hardly a time of personal responsibility. As trustworthy as I’ve become, I’m still human and had a youth. After all the hard work I’ve put into building my online presence, do I really want some random moment of disgraceful behaviour that got caught on camera appearing before my prospective clients? Not really.

But whether I like it or not, Facebook seems to be slowly usurping the web. “Sign in using Facebook”…”Log in with Facebook”…”Get access with your Facebook ID”. More and more, Facebook is infiltrating services I use, asking me to trust them. Twitter is doing the same thing, but Twitter doesn’t carry the same damaging potential. Take for example the following news stories:

Facebook IconsIn these cases, the individuals in question posted their own information. But Facebook lets others post information and then tag you, so control of what’s visible on your profile is not always yours. Wikipedia has a massive entry on the criticism of Facebook citing 237 references which shows privacy concerns are rampant. Watch Mr. Rogers Meets Facebook Privacy Policy for a good explanation.

As human beings, we’re multifaceted. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Lee Iacocca, Hilary Clinton are all leaders. On their way to becoming leaders. I can guarantee all of them have had sex, misbehaved, gotten themselves in personal trouble, and made bad decisions. How effective would their journeys have been if all their dirty laundry were broadcast to the world every step of the way? How would the trust they built in the people around them have been hindered by a regular bombardment of less-than-savory news? That’s a side-effect of many social media sites, especially Facebook.

Yet Facebook’s ubiquity in the business world increases:

Boundaries that were previously clear in terms of human interaction are getting pretty blurry.

So here’s my question. Are we headed for:

1) A world where boundaries diminish and we are exposed to all facets of people with whom we do business? What are the implications of that? Do we just ignore those traits that we’d rather not know about? How would you feel if, as you were cutting an important deal with someone, you found out they were an alcoholic or a drug user? What if you found out about some horrible scandal they’d gone through when they were younger (since the Internet’s memory is forever)? How would that affect your trust of them in regards to the deal you were making?

Okay, flip that around…what would you expect to happen if your deal’s counterparty found those things out about you during sensitive negotiations?

The Clinton / Lewinsky scandal of the late 90s showed us what happens when a leader’s dirty laundry is aired. “Who cares,” was the general sentiment in the world, but that didn’t stop the Republican Party or the press from pursuing the issue.

2) A world where people become extraordinarily guarded about what they publish on social media networks. What happens to information that was published before they became guarded? While people may become more circumspect about their publications, unless they’ve always been careful about their publications, information they don’t want divulged is still available.

And since Facebook lets others publish information about you and tag you with it, being guarded doesn’t really help. Also, there’s nothing to prevent others from publishing information about you that isn’t even true. “Libel suit,” you exclaim. Sure if you’ve got the money and can prove harmful intent. And the information is public so we’re back to the impact of sensitive information on business dealings. As always it’s the perception of impropriety that’s the most damaging…the facts aren’t always that important.

3) Some other world where there’s a massive seismic break in terms of how sites like Facebook work. Before social media, humans interacted with one another in specific ways. They used judgment about the information they did or did not divulge to individual parties (i.e., not talking about your sex life in front of your mother). Facebook is radically changing that–and we’re letting it. Will the currently 500 million Facebook users suddenly snap as one to this realization and pressure the company to change its operation?

I don’t know the answer to this question. Like I said, we’re headed someplace…I just don’t know where.

Morés have changed massively in the last hundred years. Regardless of topic, what was once a huge scandal is now boring and mundane. Perhaps we’re just headed to a place where people have incredibly long fuses and none but the most dastardly deeds cause harm to an individual’s reputation.

What do you think?

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Anonymous


    Often your postings push the reader to stop and think. In this case, I feel like I was shoved back into my chair, tied up, and beer-bonged with a mix of 5 Hour Energy and Red Bull ;>)

    Seriously, the way that all social media drives both our personal and business lives, and the speed at which it has become so ingrained, is truly amazing when you do stop to think about it. Clearly, as you point out, there can be much harm caused by the use of these tools, with probably a lot more to come. Still, there is great good as well. I have been able to reconnect with old friends, and meet a number new ones through them as well. Like the automobile and airplane allowed people to travel further faster, these sites allow me to be virtually anywhere in the world whenever I wish. I can share my thoughts, or even better since that does take long, learn new ones….

    I can’t predict where this will end up, but am glad to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

    Thanks for the great question!

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  • Geoff:

    Great post as usual! When I was first messing around with this stuff I thought it was great…from 1 cell phone text I could send a picture to Flicker, which would updated Twitter, then Update LinkedIn and Facebook. Wow! I quickly learned that is not what I wanted to do.

    I have since separated my LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I use LinkedIn for the occasional update about my blog or a some industry event. Twitter is for mostly professional links in the #pmot realm…occasional posts about my kids or family. Facebook has been left alone for comments about personal feelings/opinions and other things that I don’t feel are necessary for a ‘business’ contact to know.

    If Facebook wants to grow the business side, they will need to do something in the way of a moderator function…”Geoff, Jane Doe has tagged you in THAT picture” and you can deny posting it to the profile.


  • Heya, Robert, thanks for the comment! I also keep most of the sites where I’m active online separate. I turned off automatic updates on just about everything so I’d have a modicum of control over what gets posted where, although I must say it’s a lot of work keeping up with them all.

    When you say that Facebook needs to do something regarding moderation, I agree with you fully, but don’t know if the rest of the world does. Looking at the numbers, hordes of people are putting up Facebook business pages, so whether we like it or not, things are changing.

    Unless the numbers start to drop I don’t see Facebook bothering to make changes anytime soon.

    Boundaries are going to come down, because you can’t put so many wants, needs, agendas and objectives into one pot and not expect something new to emerge. But what is that new thing?

  • Great thought provoking post … I wonder if we are headed for a similar dot-com bubble burst with social media. The current panacea of opportunity and marketing potential does come crashing down to a more realistic norm. The crash is analogous to the dot-com realization that you have to have basic business fundamentals like a positive cost flow at some some point to be sustainable. Maybe some traditional media consensus reporting on the silliness of putting literally everything online?

  • There are two trends at work here.
    1. People’s desire to filter/personalize the mass of content on the web and
    2. People learning how to comport themselves, socially, in an online environment.

    These two trends will coalesce into some improved and more secure manner of interacting with others online. Whether this will be an evolution of Facebook or a total seismic game changer depends on how Facebook (and Twitter) decide to go.

    To go into a touch more detail… regarding item 1.
    There are terabytes of information on the web and more added daily. Facebook allows people to easily contribute to that information and filter that information (seeing only stuff from people they know). People love being able to personalize/filter the content -which is why Twitter use has skyrocketed.

    However, people are still getting overwhelmed with the amount of information and they are finding that the information moves far more fluidly in virtual life (VL) than in real life (RL). Plus, in RL, people have grown up learning how to behave, what’s proper to say to whom and how to “be” who they want to be in different social groups.

    This kind of learning is what is taking place in VL.
    As a side note, I’ve introduce a concept called “Permission Boundaries” that encapsulates the cost of being social online (see http://tinyurl.com/2frjkgn).

    One HUGE IMPORTANT difference between VL and RL is that VL is privately owned by corporations who are interested in making money. They make the rules, balancing adoption and profit.