A few days ago I wrote about the challenges faced by employers whose employees post offensive content or comments on social media sites, potentially damaging the company's image. How, I wondered, might employers attempt to manage employees' social media use, given the sheer number of sites and complexity of the emerging landscape? Well, now I know: a syndicated online service, of course!
The first service I've read about that does this is called Social Sentry, and was created by a company called Teneros. Social Sentry allows companies to track every social media interaction by their employees, at the workplace or elsewhere -- presumably including their home usage. Indeed Teneros specifically states that Social Sentry can "monitor employee public communication happening from any location, within the corporate network or public Internet."
Social Sentry features include the ability to discover employee social network presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social networks; monitoring employee social network activity from any kind of device, including mobile; automated notification of social network activity transgressing company rules; and a variety of analytic and reporting functions for managing and interpreting all this data.
Teneros offers several rationales for Social Sentry monitoring: most prominently, in addition to the potential for offensive, brand-damaging comments by employees, companies are naturally worried about employees sharing trade secrets or other sensitive information online.
In some ways Social Sentry might be regarded as a compromise, enabling companies to allow employees to use social media where they otherwise might simply be banned from doing so in the workplace. But the extension of monitoring to employees' private, home usage will obviously raise concerns about the invasion of privacy.
But the obvious response to these concerns is that the information is already out there, in the public sphere -- so, where's the invasion of privacy? Does automatically aggregating public information from several, disparate locations really constitute such an invasion? We've already seen a number of backlashes against social networks, most memorably Facebook, for introducing new functions (which they hoped, ironically, would be perceived as valued features) simply collating and presenting information that was already publicly available.