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Deloitte’s 2009 Ethics & Workplace Survey Examines the Reputational Risk Implications of Social Networks

The phenomenal growth of online social networks is altering the way people communicate, share ideas, and disseminate information. This enhanced world of connectivity is also rapidly blurring the lines between professional and private lives. And while the openness of these new communications tools creates great opportunities, they can cause ethical dilemmas for individuals and present many challenges for businesses that can leave brands exposed and vulnerable. Deloitte LLP’s 2009 Ethics & Workplace Survey shows that there is great reputational risk associated with social networking as 74% of employed Americans surveyed believe it is easy to damage a brand’s reputation via sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

“With the explosive growth of online social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, rapidly blurring the lines between professional and private lives, these virtual communities have increased the potential of reputational risk for many organizations and their brands,” says Sharon Allen, chairman of the board at Deloitte.

She explains that executives have to be “mindful of the implications of this connected world and to elevate the discussion about the risks associated with it to the highest levels of leadership.”

According to the Deloitte’s 2009 Ethics & Workplace Survey, 60% of business executives thought they have a right to know how workers profile themselves and their organizations on social networks, with 30% admitting to informally monitoring social networking sites.

Yet 53% of employees report their social networking pages are not an employer’s concern, with 63% of 18-34 year old respondents asserting that employers have no business monitoring their online activity. Sixty-one percent of employees say that even if employers are monitoring their social networking profiles or activities, they won’t change what they’re doing online — they know it’s not private, and have already made significant adjustments to their online profiles.

The survey represents the responses of 2,008 employed adults and 500 business executives.

Other key findings from the survey:

  • Seventeen percent of executives report they have programs in place to monitor and mitigate the possible reputational risks related to the use of social networks.
  • Fifty-eight percent of executives agree that reputational risk and social networking should be a board room issue, but only 15% say it actually is.
  • Nearly half (49%) of employees indicate defined guidelines will not change their behavior online.
  • One-third of employees surveyed never consider what their boss or customers might think before posting material online.

Opinion Research conducted a telephone survey on behalf of Deloitte LLP among a national probability sample of 2,008 employed adults comprising 1,000 men and 1,008 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States.  Interviewing for these CARAVAN® Surveys was completed during the period April 9–13 and 16–19, 2009.  Sampling error is +/- 2.5 percent.

Opinion Research also conducted an online survey of 500 business executives. The sample for the study came from a panel of executives across the United States, including company owners, directors, CEO’s, controllers, EVPs, CIOs, VPs and board members. Invitations to participate in the study were sent beginning on April 10, 2009 and data collection continued through April 17, 2009.

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