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ReConnect Africa is a unique website and online magazine for the African professional in the Diaspora. Packed with essential information about careers, business and jobs, ReConnect Africa keeps you connected to the best of Africa.

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Image When is free speech not quite so free? Ask Heather Armstrong who lost her job after posting information about her former employer on her blog. Her advice to others using social networking to talk about their company? Don't be stupid – or expect consequences if you anger your employer with the contents of your blog.

But where should the line be drawn between sharing what's on your mind with your online pals on Twitter and feeling the wrath of your bosses if they don't like what you are saying?

According to the third annual Deloitte LLP Ethics & Workplace survey, 60% of business executives believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organisations on online social networks. Unsurprisingly, employees disagree, with more than half (53%) saying that their social networking pages are none of their employer’s concern. Again, no surprises that this finding is especially true among younger workers, with 63% of 18-34 year old respondents stating that employers have no business monitoring their online activity.

Risky Business

But the fact is employers have every business wanting to safeguard the reputation of their companies. One could argue that killing the golden goose that provides the pay cheques isn't a particularly smart move on the part of an employee either.

But is this behaviour willful or just thoughtless? On one hand, says the survey, one-third of employees surveyed never consider what their boss or customers might think before posting material online. Yet most of those who responded were pretty clear about the risks involved in using online social networks, as 74% of respondents believe they make it easier to damage a company's reputation – a fact not lost on Sharon Allen, Chairman of the Board of Deloitte.

Posting videos or observations on a social networking site can create far reaching and damning consequences for individuals and employers.

"With the explosive growth of online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter rapidly blurring the lines between professional and private lives," she says, "these virtual communities have increased the potential of reputational risk for many organisations and their brands."

The explosion in social networking and the speed with which information is shared and transmitted globally leaves brands vulnerable. While posting videos or observations on a social networking site is a personal decision, it can create far reaching and damning consequences for both individuals and their employers.

Let's take blogging. Once a blog (or online journal for the un-initiated) has been posted, friends and strangers alike can read it, comment on it and send on the link to others. What might have been an impulsive angry comment or a disgruntled rant about an irritating manager is now circulated globally and accessible forever. Information that could be negative about a particular company policy or even an individual is now out there and shaping the opinion of potential recruits about the company or the target of the blogger's wrath.

Back to the Future

Online postings can come back to haunt you – as a number of politicians have discovered to their cost. Pictures taken after a few pints during your student days suddenly look a lot less funny splashed across national newspapers when you are trying to be taken seriously. Those out job hunting or pushing for a promotion should also take note that it is getting quite common for supervisors and employers to use search engines to look up existing and prospective employees.

If employers are – rightly – worried about the negative impact of denigrating tweets and scornful blogs on carefully crafted corporate images and multi-million dollar branding and advertising campaigns, what can or should they be doing about it?

Many firms are still struggling with the problem of how to wrest staff away from their Facebook, My Space or LinkedIn accounts while on company time without having to block access to half the internet. When trying to curb the need for your employees to send and follow multiple tweets during the day is already a problem, what price actually monitoring what the people are saying to the hundreds and thousands of individuals they are connected to?

Pictures taken after a few pints during your student days suddenly look a lot less funny splashed across national newspapers when you are trying to be taken seriously.

Astonishingly, the survey reports that only a mere 17% of the executives surveyed said they have programmes in place to monitor and mitigate the possible reputational risks related to the use of social networks. In the absence of high profile cases like Heather Armstrong, the effectiveness of the policies that do exist is questionable - nearly half (49%) of employees indicate that defined guidelines will not change their online behaviour.

Policies and Policing

But doing nothing is not an option if employers want to avoid litigation resulting from comments posted online by their employees. Rather than having to write the rules after the deed has been done, employers need to be clear with their staff about what is and is not acceptable - whether or not it is done in office time.

Companies should have policies in place that fit their needs. These should include how to regulate what an employee writes about your company on their social networking profile page or blog. A clear policy on internet use that addresses all media, whether social networking sites, e-mail or SMS and whether staff members are on or off-duty, will make the company’s position clear and help protect it from liability for employees' postings.

While some companies have policies that require employees to identify themselves when discussing the company in any public forum (including online forums) and to notify readers that they are speaking in an individual capacity, not as a company representative, others come down heavily on employees who post anything about their company or colleagues.

Virtually Friends

So bloggers, beware. Anything your employer deems to be slanderous, confidential, a trade secret or intellectual property will likely land you in hot water. Blogs or tweets that can be seen as disparaging or harassing managers or colleagues could also rebound fast on the author.

And what about your friends? While being known for the company you keep matters less in your private life, your choice of virtual friends can be your career undoing, as some have found to their cost.

Your choice of virtual friends can be your career undoing, as some have found to their cost.

Pity poor Nathan Singh, a UK prison warden who was sacked after he was suspected of supplying inmates with mobile phones and other banned items. While the disciplinary hearing heard there was no evidence of Singh smuggling anything into the prison, he was found to be friends with 13 criminals through Facebook. After being dismissed for gross misconduct, Singh said he knew the criminals from school or playing football.

"Sometimes when I logged on to my Facebook site there would be 20-odd friend requests and I just accepted them," he said. "Sometimes I didn't even check them. I realise now it might have been naïve."

In This Issue

What exactly is going on in Burundi? As the country emerges from over a decade of conflict, Rachel Keeler investigates in Burundi: The Fifth East African Looking for Investors what interests investors in this East African Community's fifth member.

In Taking the Lead on Africa, we find out more about the exciting and innovative British Council Strategic Leaders Programme now open to applications and which offers a unique opportunity to join African and British leaders in addressing Africa's pressing challenges.

When it comes to business qualifications that offer both quality and an affordable price, ABE is hard to beat. In In the Business of Quality we speak to Christine Gill of ABE about the company's latest developments.

In this month's Careers section, Nigerian networking guru, Kamil Olufowobi, shares strategies and tactics to network your way to finding a job in ' Networking for a Job?', while our Career Coach answers the question of ' Why do I Need a Mentor?'.

ReConnect Africa's former Career Coach, Helen Tucker (ex Dupigny), recently re-launched her book 'Vicissitude' and career development programme. In ' Vicissitude', we talk to Helen about her personal journey and overcoming vicissitudes.


The Sierra Leonean writer and broadcaster Ade Daramy is our guest interviewee in this month's ' 5 Minute Interview' and Ade shares some of the wisdom he has picked up along the way.

We go back into the ReConnect Africa Archives and give you another chance to read Vincent Owen's tips on interviewing job candidates. If you are new to interviewing or just want to check you are doing the right thing, read Managing the Interview.

November sees an exciting line up of events in the UK and overseas and   our Events listing gives you details of what's on this month.

As ever, we report on news from the UK and around the world and bring you an overview of news from across the African continent.

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