Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Recruitment Industry – Do we need an Ombudsman?

Anyone that knows me or follows me on Linkedin is probably aware of how passionately I defend the recruitment industry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that blind and naïve fool who thinks everything in the garden is rosy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s face it those do exist in all industry sectors and walks of life.

I do however believe that the recruitment industry is unduly maligned, vilified and chastised as the Pantomime Villain of the job market and the world of employment. Surprisingly more often than not it is by the people who work in it. I am absolutely not one of them. But I’m not wearing rose tinted glasses. There are issues, there are rogue elements and there are undoubtedly the unscrupulous and the exploitative. In all walks of life, in every profession there are those who cause problems, have a different set of ethics and morals, narcissists and commercial sociopaths who thrive on doing things the wrong way, who think that financial gain and acquisition of a fast buck is the testament to success. Unfortunately in recruitment because of who we are and what we do a little bad news can travel very fast, especially in the social media world we now live in where a single incident which had no original malicious or unscrupulous intent can be rapidly exaggerated as catch all testament to the industry as whole

Earlier this year a debate raged on the Institute of Recruiters (IOR), Linkedin Group. I spent a week or so defending criticism of my industry from a certain quarter. These people (one individual in particular) were suggesting that the recruitment industry needs licensing. It was quite a lively debate, and in all fairness I suspect the real context was lost due to the misleading opening point of the discussion where it was implied that virtually all recruitment businesses are worthless, because they don’t have a license. Suffice to say that this angle was robustly defended by many and some including myself rather took offence at the insinuation. But maybe in hindsight I should consider eating some humble pie.

I was recently asked for advice from a former client on a serious recruitment issue they were trying to deal with. Basically they use a number of recruitment firms to recruit highly skilled and pretty rare technical engineering staff. Much of this is on an ongoing contract basis which is very lucrative for the recruitment firms involved. Some however is permanent recruitment, which of course from a one off fee perspective is particularly rewarding.

My client has discovered that one of their suppliers has been responsible for some rather unethical activity within their organisation. Basically the recruiter has been placing candidates on a perm basis and then soliciting the same candidates immediately they are out of their probationary period or to clarify, once the rebate period on the fee has transpired. This hasn’t happened just once either. My client has undertaken a solid investigation and it appears that this activity has taken place on at least 5 occasions in the last 12mths across their various business areas and departments.

Worse still! Yes it can get worse. The same recruitment firm provides a lot of contractors, but what they have been doing is poaching other recruitment agencies contractors out of the company and its projects and placing them with competitors and visa versa. What makes it worse still is that they have been paying referral fees to their own contractors for names and phone numbers of competitor’s contractors, effectively undermining their own client’s projects by extracting their skilled agency contractors!

Now, if you work in recruitment and have ethics and morals you are probably squirming in your seat at the sheer audacity of this. If you don’t work in recruitment or don’t understand how this market works you may not really appreciate how bad this scenario is, let me explain.

The recruiter gets paid a fee for a perm placement of for example £8,000 for placing Bill Smith in a job with Oxygen Power Services. 3mths later when there is no rebate clause period remaining so the recruitment fee is banked and safe. The same recruiter goes back to Bill Smith and offers him some more money to move to another firm down the road. He gets another £8’000, but at the same time he gets to fill Bills job at Oxygen again with a candidate he previously placed at another firm and gets another £8’000. In reality there is no limit to how many times he can do this, well until he runs out of companies and candidates. If he moves 5 candidates through 5 companies and they all work in the same place once, then over a period of 12 – 18mths he can replicate the same fee up to 25 times! Unlikely but it is mathematically possible.

The same kind of formula can be applied to the contractor side. He is basically shuffling contractors from one recruiter to another project and has created a merry go round type scenario, which is also pushing up pay rates or reducing everyone’s margins. This is basically ‘Sharp Pracitice’ and was traditionally the holy grail of a few firms of cowboys and charlatans in the Sales Recruitment sector in the 80’s and 90’s who oddly always had a tendency to emulate Gordon Gekko. Image

My client has asked me who they can escalate this unprofessional conduct to in terms of a serious complaint. The problem is he can’t really! Okay if the recruitment firm in question were part of the REC or the IOR or similar then he could complain to those industry bodies. But they aren’t a member and to be honest, industry bodies don’t usually have much bite, although the recently formed Institute of Recruiters has promised to be robust. He can complain to the governments Employment Agency Standards office, but technically what this recruiter is doing is not illegal and they are not really responsible for commercial disputes. The EAS is really about enforcing protection, fair play and rights for workers.

What this recruiter is doing may be unethical, it may be considered bad practice by 99.9% of an industry worth an estimated £20billion+ a year to the economy, and it may even be in contravention of the terms and conditions of business of supply. But as far as I know it is not illegal. It should be but it probably never will be.

So maybe there is an argument, a case or at least a point worthy of consideration in regards to licensing the recruitment industry. Maybe there should be a government ombudsman who can rule on customer complaints with an iron glove, there is in just about every other people business. The healthcare, utilities, financial services, legal and accountancy and others all have some kind of Ombudsman set up, who is responsible for handling complaints and hold an entirely objective and impartial stance.

Maybe this could even be a more practical solution to the candidate ownership and fee debates and incidents that invariably turn legal. Yes, there would of course be a cost to set up and run an Ombudsman but if the end result is a cleaner, more robust and business conducive environment that engenders trust and thus increases positive perception could it be a win win for everyone?

What do you think?

On a final note, in reality the true scale of issues, bad practice and or intentional malpractice in the recruitment industry is actually very small. Genuine complaints, by this I mean those that are found to have grounds and be reasonable as opposed to being merely a matter of perception are relatively rare. I have worked in this industry for nearly 20yrs and the vast majority of people I have worked with or have been acquainted with are immensely passionate and ethical about what they do. But it only takes a couple of bad apples to spoil a barrel. No industry is perfect and every industry can be improved of course, but genuinely I think the industry has never been better.

So is a real licensing strategy based upon protecting hiring companies, candidates and the industry actually a good idea, it has been debated for years and historically did exist, should we bring it back? If we did, who would police it and how would it work? Would an Ombudsman suffice?

Job Seeker Advice – when the chips are down!

SLOUGHENED NO MORE!

 When I was a child my grandfather used to have an expression for an emotion, the one that you felt after a huge disappointment, when the pit of your stomach was aching and you had no idea which way to turn!

On the morning I was made redundant I felt it, understood it but simply couldn’t remember what the expression was. But mine was an overwhelming feeling of shock, followed by anger which dissipated into despair and then anxiety. What was I going to do, how would I pay for the mortgage, how would I find another job, why and how could they do this to me….

In the cold light of day it had been on the cards for a while. I’d ignored it, believing that it wouldn’t happen to me but it had!

Like many people in this situation I buried my head in the sand, my lack of motivation was mind boggling as was my sudden appetite for appalling day- time TV!

After arguments with my partner, rows with my nearest and dearest, heated discussions with the banks and soul destroying clashes with the benefit office, it suddenly dawned on me.. I had to get a grip. I needed direction and some kind of focus. I needed help!

Most of us live a life that is usually disciplined in some way by routine. From an early age we get up at a certain time for school, have dinner at 7, go to bed at 8 and so on and so forth all the way through to adulthood, when we develop different routines, but routines all the same. In my last job I caught the 7:40 train to Sheffield every morning, arrived at work at 8:30, made a coffee, checked my on-line diary , had a team meeting at 9:30am and progressed through the day, the week, on schedule and according to the routine I had established over 10yrs.

That was the Answer!

The answer was to do what I had always done, create and follow a routine. I needed a plan and I needed to take the view that getting another job had to be treated as a job!

My Routine

From that day on I awoke at 7:30am every morning and went for a short walk (my commute) to clear my head and plan the day ahead, just as I had always done on the train to work. I created a desk space for my new job away from the TV (which now stayed unplugged until 5pm) and I stuck to strict break-times. I began to attack the task of finding a job full time.

One thing that quickly became evident was that I needed help. The market place had changed. No longer did the local newspapers have pages upon pages of jobs. Why? Everything had gone on line and I needed to know how to find jobs on line. My CV was atrocious, who could help me articulate my experience professionally? Interviews? I hadn’t had an interview for years, who could coach me, prepare me and get me in the right frame of mind?

I met with a couple of recruitment agencies, sucked up all the advice and information they had. I created an on-line profile to market me, to make me easier to find. I began to attend networking events, job seeker seminars and basically anything that could get me in front of someone, anyone who would recognise what I had to offer.

Within 2 weeks I was applying for 10 advertised jobs a day, I was sending speculative CV’s and targeting and making calls to researched employers. Things began to happen, don’t get me wrong I had to be tenacious, often persistent but what did I have to lose?

Oh, I’ll be honest and admit that often I sat with my head in my hands, had to really fight the urge to just turn the TV back on. I got angry when agencies and employers didn’t even acknowledge my emails and calls. But I stuck with it.

It isn’t easy but…

After 4 weeks the interviews started to roll in, my skills had been improved, I understood how to sell myself, how to tailor a CV, how to answer competency based interview questions and how to research my opportunities. 1st interviews became 2nd’s and then finally it happened, I was offered a job! Bizarrely the job I secured turned out be better than the one I had lost. The skills I had learned, the renewed discipline and the sheer drive and determination involved in the whole process had made me leaner, keener and sharper, more flexible and focused and what employer could resist those attributes..

My advice is simple. You have to attack the whole process. Treat it like as a job, but most of all ask for help, seek advice and stick to your routine.

Oh, that expression my Grand-father had, it was something like sloughened, I suspect it is a Barnsley or Yorkshire term. Regardless he would be proud, of how I turned my despair around, I know he would!

This is an adaptation of an original piece written by Greg Fry, an very good, inspirational career coach and job search counsellor – find him here – Greg Fry http://wwwcareerscoacheu.blog.com/

Job Seeker Advice – Interview Tips

Great news, you’ve prepared a winning CV, spent weeks scrolling, searching and registering in the alternate and surreal universe known as on-line job boards, met with 20 recruitment agencies and applied for literally hundreds of jobs. Finally you’ve secured an interview and after the initial elation thought ‘Oh no, a dreaded interview……!’Image

The following are a few simple tips and hints to help you, not exhaustive but worth considering:

Company Research

It is vital that you know who you are going to see, what they do, their successes and what makes them tick as an organisation. Check them out, use Linkedin  and the internet. Get a view of the type of people who work there, what their backgrounds are and general information. Make sure you look at groups they are in, what discussions they contribute to, get to know them before the interview. You may even be able to find out what football team they support! All of this information can make a difference, and interviewers will expect you to be prepared.

Role Research

Read the job description, make notes and compare your experience, qualifications and skills against it. Make notes of relevant challenges, projects and responsibilities which match from your previous employment and occasions when you have demonstrated these abilities. In some cases such as public sector (Councils for example) ask them if there is an Employee Specification document (this is different from a job description), this will enable you to match and compare your skills and experience effectively and accurately.

Interview Research

Ask what kind of interview it will be, is it going to be a panel interview, will there be tests, will it be competency based, what documentation or information will they require on the day. Know before you get there what to expect. If you are being assisted by a recruiter, ask them what other candidates have experience, ask them if they have an hour spare to do some role play with you. Remember it is as much in the Recruiters interests for you to do well as it is your own. So make them go that extra yard, get them involved. I absolutely love preparing candidates for interview, especially when they blow my client away.

Prepare Questions in Advance

Nothing makes an interviewer cringe more than a prospective employee who doesn’t have some great questions. Forget about asking how many smoke breaks there are, or about sickness and holidays. Ask about career progression, the company’s future strategy and growth. Ask the interviewer why they work there, what is the one thing that makes it such a great place to work?

A real crowd pleaser in an interview is when you structure questions around some very recent or major press release or business / sector development. If for example they have recently acquired a business, ask them what drove that acquisition, what the short and long term impact in terms of revenue and turnover is going to be and how that will enhance the companies competitive edge. I once had a candidate interviewed for a role as a Business Analyst and the guy interviewing him didn’t know that the company had just acquired a major competitor until my candidate asked them a question about it. Brilliant, they got the job.

Location Preparation

It might sound obvious, but make sure you know exactly where the location is. Check timings for getting there in good time. If using public transport make sure that you have enough time in case of delays. It is great to arrive 10 minutes early but avoid turning up too early. Use a sat-nav if you have one, even check the route out the day before, make sure you know if there is a parking space or not.

Appearance

Remember, it is you that wants a job! Dress appropriately for the environment, check with them if necessary and ask if it is business attire or smart casual and adapt accordingly. Be aware that many organisations will frown upon things that you may consider acceptable, not every workplace will admire your multiple piercings and the tattoos modelled on Angeline Jolie, no matter how fabulous your friends think they are.

The Interview

You got there on time, you look like a million dollars,  your research was exhaustive, you know your interviewer supports Manchester United (someone has to) and you’ve even researched where they are in the league and now you are nothing but a shaking, trembling bag of nerves! Seriously though, if you’ve prepared you should feel great! Remember to smile, lots!

Interviews should be two way. Of course the interviewer wants to ascertain if you have the right skills, personality and experience for their organisation. But equally, they should present their company, the culture and successes to sell the opportunity to you.

Listen carefully to the questions and answer honestly and succinctly using examples from your past experience.  When you have finished confirm that your answer is informative enough. If you don’t understand a question, maybe because of terminology then be honest and ask them to repeat it or phrase it in another way. Avoid negatives at all cost, focus on positive examples and experiences.

Remember, body language is important, but don’t make the mistake of getting too carried away with it. Mimicking yiour interviewer might sound great at some job seeker workshop, if you get it wrong they could take offence. People buy people like them, but nobody likes to be made a fool of. Smile, sit up straight and don’t fidget or fiddle, even Chief Executives can be uncomfortable in an interview. Remember that your interviewer is probably as uncomfortable with the whole situation as you. So relax, enjoy the experience and you’ll notice that it should just flow.Image

Finally remember to ask your questions when given the opportunity. But most importantly at the end ask them how they thought it went? Ask them if there is any additional information they need? Ask them what the next stage is and how long it will be before you hear from them. Close the interview professionally and confidently and let them know that you are interested.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

Would You Pay Someone To Find You Your Next Job?

In the UK and Europe you can buy expertise, counselling, advice or assistance for just about anything, legally. If you want to buy a house but can’t be bothered looking, hire a house hunter. If you want to invest all your ill-gotten appearance fees (Tony Blair) hire an investment banker. If you want to book a holiday hire a Concierge service. But if you want to find your next job, guess what. You can’t hire a professional job finder! Why not?

If you were recommended by a trusted associate or family member to someone who had a track record of successfully finding people their next job including the coaching, advising, training and positioning of your skills and experience would you pay for those services?

What if they provided their services on an initial retainer fee which for example covered your initial consultation, all CV / Resume reviews and preparation costs, interview coaching, career counselling, job search advice and the development of job search strategy personally devised for you. Then you paid a further fee based upon success only if the individual actually introduced you to your next employer?

There are of course a multitude of organisations and individuals who provide all of the above specified services. But none of them can legally charge you for actually finding you a job. They can charge the employer / hiring company, but they are legally restricted from charging you.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think this is ridiculous. As an adult you can buy anything and everything on credit, you can enter into lifelong financial commitments, you can risk your home and your family’s well being to some fancy talking investment advisor authorised by the FSA who still turns out to be a Madoff style Ponzi scheme, you can buy dreadful cosmetic implants from authorised and approved surgeons and even a wife from overseas. But you can’t pay someone to increase your chances of finding you a job!

Okay, I understand that the law is this way to stop people being exploited. In many ways it is to stop vulnerable or often disoriented people (and unexpected redundancy can and often does really knock people sideways) from being taken advantage of by less ethical unscrupulous con men and fraudsters. But consider this for a moment. If you lose your job and struggle to find a new one, there is very unfortunately a massive potential disaster looming. Having a job is probably the most important thing in your life after your partner (okay, this may debatable) and your family. For many people it underlines their status, their personality and their standing in their community or even their social circle.

How many of us have met people who lost their job first only for it to escalate into a full-blown personal crisis. It begins with a slight tightening of the belt, the kids can’t go on that school trip, the gym membership gets cancelled, the credit cards get cut up, one of the cars has to go, the holiday to Tenerife gets held over for a year, the new kitchen goes on hold. The pressure, the personal stress and the anxiety build with every passing day.

The financial implications are only the beginning. Personal relationships begin to suffer, you have to swallow your pride and ask friends and family for help in finding work. You walk into your local and people begin to avoid you, or offer what can be hollow comfort. Family issues kick in as one partner feels they are taking all the strain, you aren’t doing enough or are not doing it right. Personally you begin to feel frustrated and angry and fear that you are falling into a rut.

How many people reading this post have either experienced these things personally first hand or know someone who has?

So we are agreed then that a job is immensely important to us. It often makes us who we are, it provides purpose and it provides the means and the financial stability to school our children the way we want and it enables us to socialise the way we like and to live where we want.

So why can’t you seek and pay for professional help? This Government has spent literally millions of £’s on Career Counsellors, Back to Work Advisors and Skills Teaching to help people find work more effectively. Yet none of it actually works. The vast majority of assistance provided by the public sector and welfare or related services is time locked or has restrictions on it. You have to meet certain age criteria, fall into a certain demographic or have specific issues before anyone can speak to you. When people joke about preferential treatment for ex-offenders, drug addicts or the systematically unemployed, it isn’t funny. It’s true. Try being a normal everyday citizen of the UK who loses their job after 7yrs with the same employer. The Job Centre+ people are primarily focused on making sure that you don’t get any benefits until you have exhausted all your resources, are on the verge of defaulting on your mortgage and facing a custodial sentence for non-payment of council tax.

So why don’t they issue a licence scheme for recruiters and enable them to work directly with Job Seekers in a whole new way?

Imagine if you had your very own recruitment consultant, one who focused on you first and foremost, who explored every single opportunity to find you a potential job vacancy and then made every possible effort to ensure that you nailed it at interview. Imagine a recruiter who was paid by you the job seeker and not the hiring company. You pull the strings, you lay out your demands, you work collaboratively to maximise every resource. The Recruiter reports into you daily or weekly, they provide a working document of activity undertaken. They do all the research, the networking, the cold calling and the emailing for you. Effectively their job is to find you a new job first and foremost.

How much would you be willing to pay and on what terms? Would you for example pay an initial up-front retainer of £2,500 to buy exclusive time, to buy the search strategy, the coaching and resume re-writing and everything? If the recruiter then successfully sourced and secured you a position would you agree to pay a remaining balance for example 3 – 6 months later of £7,500? If you earn £50,000 per annum, for every month you are out of work you are losing c£4,000+.

I’m just throwing ideas around here. There is a huge disconnect at the moment between Job Seekers and Recruiters. Much of this is simply because Recruiters are pressured by their actual employer and their clients the hiring companies. They simply don’t have the time to work one on one with Job Seekers or to work with them in a collaborative manner. Many do try to assist and help as many people as they can, many spend much of their free time writing up CV’s  / Resume’s / Covering Letters for their friends and family. Many spend time coaching or counselling people about interview technique. But this is all on an ad-hoc basis and 99% of the time is done pro-bono.

It would have to be heavily weighted towards successful placement. There would have to be a Licence element to ensure that only respectable, legally operating and experienced recruiters were allowed to engage in the activity. But could it work? Would it offer a different or alternative means to those Job Seekers who maybe don’t have the time, don’t have the knowledge or simply don’t want to take a chance of not finding another job quickly?

What are your thoughts? How could it be made to work? Would you participate?

Social Media – A Cautionary Tale Featuring The 3 Bears, Humpty Dumpty and Gerald Ratner

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
– George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 1

A Gentle Introduction – like a walk in the woods before the wolves come out to play

George Orwell was possibly not the most entertaining writer I have had the good fortune to read, Robert Rankin and his musings about Hugo Rune and the Brentford area is far more amusing. Whilst of course a real piece of escapism for when the infernal imbecile sat next to you on the train spends 2 hours shouting down their phone to their obviously paranoid and untrusting wife that he is on his way home is Jasper Ffordes, Nursery Crimes Divsion stories, I can particularly recommend The Big Over Easy, Humpty Dumpty is hilarious as a mixed up philandering gambler and delusional fraudster, as is the depiction of Reading. But back to less entertaining things, I remember reading Orwell’s, Keep the Aspidistra Flying and fighting right to the very end to keep my eyes open in the face of such absolute mediocrity and blandness, which was precisely the point of the book of course. But in many of his dark cynical observations and perceptions of life, politics and humanity such as Animal Farm and especially ‘1984’ he was indeed as many of us suspected a visionary.

Social Media – A Bright New World or a Disaster Waiting to Happen

Consider the quote from 1984 at the start of this post in light of the modern situation with our New Social Media World for a moment. Consider the frantic drafting and re-drafting of corporate social media policies to protect them against every imaginable, definable and perceivable scenario that their legal advisers can envisage, and this sort of envisaging does not come cheap of course. Review the constant media reports of amendments to public law, the perception and interpretation of acts likely to cause offence, a breach of the peace. How many media reports are there already of commercial suicide because they underestimated how disappointed a customer was, career suicide because they posted something offensive about their own employer or boss. Then consider the global concerns about elements related to privacy and marketing possibly even brainwashing. Remember the furore over subliminal imaging? How is that different from source amnesia? Except one is legal because we don’t really understand it yet and it is also big business, and the other was banned because we thought we understood it in the 60’s and 70’s when the World was in awe of such things. Governments and Judicial organisations around the World are trying to define what is acceptable, what is within the law, what you can say, who you can say it to and what the punishments are for breaches of these new first Social Media World laws and legislations. In my opinion they are rushing headlong into a mind field that will last for generations.

Can You Tweet Yourself to Death?

Professionally – YES! Incorrect utilisation of social media can ruin your business, your brand, your reputation, your career and possibly your life in literally minutes. I am a recruiter or a Head Hunter and I operate internationally across various markets, diverse cultures and religions. I only have to make one ill thought out post on twitter or Linkedin and I can easily offend someone somewhere amongst all the cultures, religions, belief factors and ethical perceptions. I may never actually know who I offended or why, but they can alienate me from hundreds of people who have never met me, but will judge me without even uttering a word to me. For recruiters in a World where our entire business is people related and based upon relationships and reputations social media is literally a dream opportunity or a potential disaster waiting to happen, as Gary Chaplin found out when he accidentally blind copied an insulting email to thousands of people. He intended the sentiment of the original email, he maybe thought it was funny, he was undoubtedly a little angry at the time. But he never imagined it would go as far and as fast as it did. Bad news has never travelled so fast and so persistently as it does today. Imagine if someone made the same gaffe as Gerald Ratner did in 1991 today? For those who don’t remember it here is a little sample:

He said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.”

He added that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

He wiped almost £500 million off his companies share value, that was in 1991! The damage was limited in many ways because bad news didn’t travel so fast. You could get PR Gurus and agents like Max Clifford (who has finally been dealt his cards) to disaster manage and spread counter claims almost as fast as bad news moved. Not today.

Personally and privately it can cost you your friends, your relationship, your family and even your liberty almost instantly. It isn’t just you as the individual who drive this by the initial insensitivity or stupidity or possibly even correct but unwarranted or illegal statement or thought. It is also the media who use the same tools to drive and create a social frenzy out of a little piece of social media because the more visits, the more hits, the more advertising they secure the more money the company earns. I have even heard of one guy whose own wife exposed him for buying and reading pornography, her tweets became a hit in Japan, he was ridiculed to the point of attempted suicide. It is that culture thing again, reputation and status are worth more than your life in Japan, yet Bill the Mechanic from Sheffield probably reads Playboy (I almost inserted a hyperlink here, but thought better of it. Who is interested in Sheffield after all) on the bus with his wife present.

The power is amazing. The sheer concept of literally millions of people reading within minutes, something that was intended for a small, private select audience of my friends or family is mind blowing. It used to take PR Companies weeks, months and maybe even years to get an advertising or political message out but now one carefully choreographed and stage managed strap line can do the same job as dozens of PR and Branding Execs in hours if not less.

I find it frightening on so many levels. Yet despite my fear of it and probably in spite of my naturally outspoken, passionately driven and often strongly opinionated personality I still play with it and experiment with it just like I am right now. Almost all of us, even the so called guru’s who charge to train and teach and maximise our use and a firms investment in it, are really like that first human who  played with fire out of curiosity, hypnotised by the mystical flickering flame. When he subsequently set fire to his enemies dwelling and realised its other potential they hadn’t invented the offence of arson. Nobody considered it a crime of passion, it was just one of those things.

We haven’t even educated one single generation yet about the benefits and the dangers of social media. As far as I am aware it isn’t part of the school curriculum, it isn’t discussed as part of the moral guidance delivered in churches. When I was a child there was a splendid Community Police Sergeant called Keith Ellis who used to come to my school. He brought people to talk to us about the dangers of railway lines, swimming in lakes, crossing roads, riding bicycles safely and later during our teenage years he warned us of the dangers of drugs, alcohol, glue sniffing, aerosol abuse and going off the rails. Who tells our children today about the dangers of social media? I know that we are quite rightly abundantly clear and aware of the dangers of strangers on the web, but how does a 17yr old know what Facebook can really do, how does a 40yr old know how to utilise his privacy settings? Who has told him? How does a job seeker know that he is actively alienating every recruiter and potentially lot’s of prospective employers due to his blogs success or his rants on discussions on Linkedin.

Make-Believe

We are basically making it up as we go along, changing the rules to suit public opinion, jumping to conclusions about what everyone thinks, responding en-masse in an almost hysterical manner. Forgetting that just because it is the majority choice doesn’t make it right. I may not like your sexual orientation it doesn’t make you wrong, it doesn’t make my opinion right either. Yet you can flaunt your sexual preferences, your likes in public, but I am legally prohibited from voicing mine ( this is just an example). Sexuality or Race is taboo as it should be, yet my political preference is fair game. You can slander their heritage and their culture because they come from a council estate in Yorkshire, but they can’t criticise your religious beliefs or cultural differences. The problem is if people don’t truly understand how it works, how can they be responsible. There are no written rules, we don’t have a moral or ethical guide or compass on Social Media, because it is still happening and it is too complex.

In recent months we have had examples of people imprisoned for making statements perceived to be inciting a riot. In a couple of cases individuals who appear to severely lack any kind of sound moral guidance or social responsibility claimed they were joking, they didn’t mean it, they were just having a laugh with their mates. How do we really know they were not, after all none of the ones convicted and jailed were actually caught in the act of public disorder or affray. In effect it was a ‘thoughtcrime’, it was a brain-fart, it was an outspoken moment of stupidity, but it was probably shared and understood by their desired audience, they just didn’t realise it wasn’t shared and understood by mine and yours. If they had known that a second of misguided humour could secure you 3-4yrs in prison do you really think they would have done it? Really!

Education and Prevention is Key

In the UK it is extremely difficult to obtain a gun, at least legally anyway. There is good reason for this, people don’t understand how to use them safely, can’t secure them properly and are often tempted to use them negligently or in moments of anger. The never ending images of brainless, moronic individuals who actually post photographs of themselves on facebook posing with pistols, sub-machine guns, machine pistols clearly demonstrate this. Get this, very often it is an illegal weapon. It is like giving a child a sushi knife. Similarly with cars (cars not cats okay), you have to be taught how to drive one safely so that you don’t kill someone or yourself. But even then there is massive investment in telling us the obvious, don’t drink and drive, don’t speed, cautionary signs on motorways for example.Despite the fact that we have all taken courses and passed a test.

Where are the public notices warning us about the consequences of social media? You can hit and run a 10yr old boy and escape with a suspended sentence, you can speed and kill a car full of passengers and get less than 12mths in prison. If you get burgled and your shotgun gets stolen the police provide you with an insurance claim number. Yet you post on Facebook “Let’s have a riot” and get 4yrs? You slander your boss to your friends on facebook and lose your job, become a national laughing stock and essentially become unemployable.

If you are Parents and your children are engaging with social media, tell them about how to use it properly while you are explaining about the birds and the bees and how not to communicate with strangers.

If you are an employer who encourages your employees to use social media then appoint a volunteer social media representative, encourage them to stay ahead of the game, to train, to issue advice. It isn’t enough to assume that everyone knows what they are doing, just because you have issued a Social Media Policy. You have an obligation to protect your employees just as you do to protect your revenues and your business.

If like me you are using social media but feel like you are often wearing a blindfold, then be cautious, never post in anger and always review, have reviewed by someone else or think twice before posting.

——————————————————————————————————————–Many of the examples used are for effect only and do not represent the views and opinions of the author / authors. Any tips, suggestions, legal advice, insight, education references are extremely welcomed on this subject matter. Please share, re-post and feel free to enlighten me, make constructive comments.