Corporate Eye

When Conversation Becomes a Concern

How much responsibility should you take for your website visitors?

Clearly, when they visit your site, you’re responsible for their experience. You want them to take certain actions as a result of their visit, so the website needs to make this easy and desirable for them, whatever that action is.

But increasingly, as websites – even corporate websites – become more social, and as companies become more involved in social media activity across the web, then visitors may well reveal something of themselves in ‘conversation’. And what they say may be something that causes you concern…

I’m not talking about data protection, because obviously you take good care of that as part of your processes.

I don’t mean corporate social responsibility in the classic sense, either, which refers to how the company takes responsibility for its impact on the context in which it works (marketplace, employees, community, environment).

No, here I mean information revealed to you as part of the social interaction that your company has taken on, shared with your employees by individuals.

Often we get comments from people who believe that we represent the brands we discuss. If we have a post about a make of car, for instance, or a food-manufacturer, people respond as though we were that company. They pass on details of their complaint and ask what we’re going to do about it.

That’s easy enough: I find the customer service contact details for that company and pass them on – and I delete any personal contact information they’ve shared publicly. This is a simple misunderstanding of the nature of our site, and perhaps of the public nature of blog comments.

Then, this week we had an unusual email, asking how to find a former lover who works for a company we mentioned. At first, I assumed it was spam, though I couldn’t see where the gain for the spammer was. But when I investigated, the email came from an apparently genuine email address from a professional company.

I’ve done nothing. How can I help, after all? And it isn’t a serious problem (I hope). Or perhaps I would make it worse…

But it made me wonder about companies who are very active in the social space, having conversations with individuals.

Banks, for instance, very clearly and very frequently, warn people in their Twitter stream not to reveal any of their personal banking details.

What about companies in other markets? What if, for instance, you are using social marketing to promote tampons to young girls, or baby milk to first-time mothers – or any product to potentially vulnerable people – and a visitor to some part of your web estate reveals something about their circumstances that causes you concern for their health or wellbeing, or that of their family? Given your privacy policy, is it permissible to try to get them help?

Google puts up a phone number for the Samaritans if you search for various keywords likely to indicate that you are suicidal; some social media sites have panic buttons for people who believe they are threatened in some way. What should corporate community managers do if they are worried about a member of their community?

I don’t have an answer, other than to ask whether companies have a duty of care that extends beyond the use of their products, and whether companies should have a policy for how to handle such an issue – if at all.

What do you think?

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