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Hic Sunt Dracones

Centuries ago, medieval mapmakers used to draw dragons and other mythological creatures on maps to indicate areas that were uncharted, and therefore potentially dangerous. One particular map, the Hunt-Lenox Globe, contains the phrase: “HC SVNT DRACONES,” Latin for “here are dragons.”

When examining social media and the potential effect it can have on one’s professional and personal landscape, I sometimes feel that all social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. should, somewhere near the copyright, contain the phrase “here be dragons.”

The amateur Art Historian in me would also like to see a beautiful image like the one above accompany the warning, too, but that’s less important.

Potentially Dangerous

For all its wonders, Social Media can be a dangerous thing. In my first manufacturing blog, I wrote about how this new relationship between company and customer puts so much power into the hands of ordinary employees. And with great power comes great responsibility. Indeed, to become a blogger here at Cisco, we have to go through extensive training not only on the “dos and don’ts” of social media but also on ethical standards.

However, some of the biggest recent social media blunders are not perpetrated by bottom of the totem pole employees but instead by top executives.

Recently, Hewlett-Packard leaked undisclosed details of its cloud computing strategy via a LinkedIn profile.  While it was not intended for the information to go beyond the profile, competitors patrolling the site discovered it, and the rest is history. When you write online you write in ink – not pencil.

In a Forrester Research survey last year of more than 150 companies that monitor social media, more than 82 percent said they use this data for competitive intelligence — the most cited reason for the monitoring. With good reason: A single insider’s Twitter Inc. post can be more valuable than a stack of analysts’ research.

And it’s not just the standard water-cooler chat or sensitive memo that your competitors may be looking for:

“Who a person’s friends are, what bars they go to, which groups they are interested in, what they look like,” Plansky said. “All of those information sources are a potential gold mine for us in developing intelligence for our clients.”

So be careful out there. That’s what I have to remind myself every time I write online. Social media is a wonderful tool that should be embraced and maximized to its fullest potential. I believe we have only just begun to see the benefits that social media can bring to our personal and professional lives. However, it is not without risk.

This applies not only to the low-level employee Tweeting from his cube but also to the high-power executive playing around on LinkedIn

As blogger Steve Tobak recently wrote:

It’s one of the quickest, easiest, and dumbest ways to bring an otherwise successful career to an untimely end. And when it happens to you, it’s a lesson you never forget. I’m talking about executives opening their big mouths when and where they shouldn’t.

And now, with social media, it’s even worse. Way worse.

Here be dragons!

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