Learning To Fake Sincerity, Spontaneity In Social Media

The puzzle of sincerity and spontaneity versus security and control.

David Carr

May 13, 2011

5 Min Read
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You know what they say about sincerity: once you learn to fake that, you've got it made. Something like that may be true of enterprise social media, at least in organizations that insist on a high level of corporate control.

The secrets to success in social media are sincerity and spontaneity, and organizations that can't stand (or can't afford) to be truly spontaneous will have to learn how to fake it convincingly. If their every social statement reads like it came out of a press release or a 10-K statement, who would want to friend or follow that?

By the way, the quote I'm riffing on is, "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." Sometimes attributed to George Burns (who may have said something similar about acting), it apparently goes back to Jean Giraudoux, the French diplomat, dramatist, and novelist. Or at least that's what Google is telling me.

Sincerity and spontaneity are on my mind following an article I did on the control financial advisors must exercise over social media, which in some cases extends to prescreening posts, or at least archiving them for later review.

Then this week I read a BetaNews article based on a Palo Alto Networks network traffic study that touched on the increased use of Web encryption in social media connections--and why that might be a bad thing, or at least a mixed blessing.

Applications using SSL represent 25% of the applications detected and 23% of the overall bandwidth used, according to the Palo Alto Networks study, which notes, "This segment of applications will continue to grow as more applications follow Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail, who all have enabled SSL either as a standard setting or as a user-selectable option." Palo Alto Networks said it based these findings on 1,253 enterprise network traffic assessments conducted between October 2010 and April 2011.

Encrypting entire Facebook sessions struck me as silly at first. Why protect every post and friend connection with the same encryption as a credit card transaction? Why not limit SSL to protecting your password when you first sign in? But authenticated sessions can be hijacked by someone with the skills to intercept unencrypted Web "cookie" files, which are transmitted with every connection to the Web server. So encrypted connections to social media and other Internet services are good for protecting employee accounts on those services. On the other hand, encryption potentially makes communications opaque to the corporately sanctioned prying eyes of compliance and information security teams.

Does your company really need to see everything an employee posts to Facebook or Twitter? Some companies apparently do, or think they do. And they may be right. The employee who transmits a confidential document to a competitor as an attachment to a Facebook message is doing no less damage than the one who does the same thing on the corporate email system, but the risk of being caught might be less. So the more conservative organizations that don't just block social media websites outright may demand that employees submit to monitoring and archiving of social media traffic--either by going through a proxy server that gives the company visibility into message content or by allowing their messages to be monitored through application programming interfaces from the service providers.

Blane Warrene is CEO of BMRW & Associates, which works with financial advisory firms and other financial services organizations on social media management. He told me customers of the firm's Arkovi archiving service typically stop at archiving posts to corporate profiles."We do have some companies that require personal profiles be archived," Warrene said, and there is always the risk of "a few bad apples" using an unmonitored channel to send inappropriate messages. For financial advisors, the way it works is that a LinkedIn profile that gives your company and title is clearly subject to monitoring, while a personal Facebook profile that omits those details may not be--as long as you never use it to talk business. Some of the more adventurous firms are allowing individual advisors to have a Facebook business page or professional Twitter page where they can talk business, but in a carefully controlled manner. That may include compliance department pre-approval for every post, or at least close monitoring.

This is where I come back to sincerity, spontaneity, and the general liveliness of the conversation. How spontaneous is the conversation that has to go through pre-approval, or the conversation conducted with the nosy boss looking over your shoulder.

When I spoke with the software company SAS Institute about social media strategy, I heard that employees are encouraged to be active social participants because the company believes it gets marketing and recruiting benefits that way. That's not to say SAS doesn't have rules about what is and isn't appropriate for employees to post, but it trusts them to a greater extent. Then again, SAS isn't covered by the same regulations as those advisory firms.

Hearsay Social has sort of a compromise, where the corporate organization can distribute pre-approved posts that financial advisors or other local agents can have the option to embellish or otherwise add a little personality to. Even that entails a degree of trust, training, and acceptance of risk.

Warrene said one of the goals of his firm's archiving system is to provide the safety net that will allow even the most conservative firms to be more adventurous and allow more natural conversations to occur. "We tell our clients not to just use surveillance for compliance. You should also use the surveillance to teach your people to be better social citizens," he said. That is, help coach them on building more effective relationships via social media.

Or let me rephrase that. Even if you have to fake it, at least sound spontaneous and sincere.

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About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

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