On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy
A Personal Note & Sober View of Online Business Headaches: Reputation Management & Cybersecurity
The benefits of online businesses have always been clear to me (e.g., the freedom and flexibility, the broad reach to potential faraway customers, etc.). However, recently I noted some massive issues online business owners face – reputation management and cybersecurity.
Internet mobs can destroy someone’s livelihood for years, and an unpopular or misconstrued Tweet (along with bad luck perhaps) can spark their wrath. Such missteps are related to innumerable topics – too many to list. So, I’ll visit the issue of bringing up politics in professional communications for business owners (but much applies to job seekers and employees alike) as I’ve previously discussed it from another angle.
Reputation management: Politics
Business owners must be wary of expressing political views in ways that don’t mesh with their customer base. I don’t know how often cases like this happen but one of my survey respondents wrote that merely unveiling your political affiliation can alienate customers:
Politics and work do not mix. Peoples political beliefs should not enter the workforce, as they can be a source of contention. My husband ran for office, we lost customers who had strong [redacted] political beliefs. They couldn’t believe he was a [redacted]. I was always taught to vote for the best candidate, not a political party.
Political labels are omitted (above) so you might readily see that this can happen to anyone regardless of political affiliation. It only takes a perceived mismatch between business owner and customers. For survey responses in their entirety, click here.
Many professionals do more than reveal their affiliation. As a recipient of others’ misguided attempts to connect over their political views, I can attest to the widespread “writing before thinking everything through” phenomena. I can’t recall how many times marketers, senior HR consultants, and those who’re simply looking to develop a professional relationship presumptuously, and unprompted, asserted their political views in their written communications – all without evidence of what mine are. Regardless of whether I share their views or not, they failed by not regarding me as an individual who might hold different (the nerve of me, right?) views.
They were seasoned professionals – 50 to 60+ years old, far along in their careers, and, in some cases, educated at esteemed institutions. All this was dashed by the baseless assumption that I’d share their views (“I thought we’d agree,” one futilely insisted). In all cases, I informed them of their indiscretion. Takeaway: Unless you’re restricting services or wares to a specific political demographic, leave your political views off of your ideal client profile script. Other recommendations follow:
- “[P]olitics is just one of those things that you don’t discuss at the office, business meetings, company events, etc. Nor do you write or post about it on the Internet. And, if you’re the boss, you should never, ever pressure employees into political action…” Source: “Why Your Business Should Not Engage in Politics” at havepresence.com
- “Even if you only comment as yourself, if you are the business owner or someone who has an online presence as a spokesperson or representative of your company that may still affect your business.” Source: “Social Media Reputation: Should Businesses Avoid Politics?” by Gail Gardner
- “No matter what party line you lean toward, keep in mind that the web remembers your digital footsteps, so it’s always a good idea to believe digital stumbles will be captured, saved and made available online long after [elections have] passed.” Source: “10 Tips for Avoiding Reputation Damage During Political Debates” by Coretta Jackson
Even if rejection doesn’t sting, Internet mobs have caused harm (sometimes over political differences). If you mix work and politics, ensure this is your fully-informed decision because, at present, there’s little protection or assistance (institutional or otherwise) for victims.
People encourage others to speak out for various reasons (e.g., validation, (mis)interpretation of silence as a sign of fear, etc.). And the outspoken are undoubtedly appreciated by their own faction. So there are incentives, but note potential consequences of thoughtlessly going along with others’ wishes and, should you decide to do so, proceed with caution.
Just as drivers urgently honking at you to proceed aren’t responsible if you oblige and have an accident, obviously those nudging you to speak out are neither responsible for any subsequent misfortune nor likely to cover your financial losses and the expense of relocating you and your loved ones. Furthermore, online audiences hold flimsy standards for evidence of wrongdoing (e.g., hearsay counts – Google’s definition of hearsay: the report of another person’s words by a witness, usually disallowed as evidence in a court of law).
This issue isn’t at the forefront of many small business owners’ minds. Information from No Quick Fixes for Small Business Cybersecurity follows:
Small businesses are frequent targets for cyberattacks and their results can be devastating, but there’s no quick fix… There’s no uniform standard small businesses can adopt to ensure they won’t suffer a cyber breach, denial-of-service or ransomware attack or to ensure they won’t be pummeled with financial losses and lawsuits when they do.
Even when small companies want to protect themselves, they often don’t know where to turn for help. Or they may lack the financial resources for security that goes beyond basic antivirus protection and making sure their systems are reliably patched.
“The average small business owner is what we call trapped in a whirlwind,” Charles Rowe, president of America’s Small Business Development Centers, a trade association, testified before the House Small Business Committee. “They’ve got 5,000 things to worry about, and sometimes this is not the wolf closest to the sled.”
Jim Mooney, cybersecurity chair of the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, urged the government to develop national cybersecurity standards for companies similar to those currently required for banks and other financial firms under the Gramm Leach Bliley legislations… Companies are notoriously wary of new regulations, however, and cyber threats often move too fast for firm regulations to keep up.
Companies not bound by specific regulation are currently required to take “reasonable steps” to protect customer data, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
That vague standard, however, can be concerning for companies, Rowe said. “What’s reasonable is shifting all the time and it’s hard to tell if you’re a small business where the bar has moved to,” he said.
Thoughts as a potential small business owner
Previously, I mentioned returning to employment and unlikelihood of posting regularly. Circumstances may change as I’m establishing a business partnership. In view of this discussion, and though I’ll maintain an online presence, it’s a relief that my idea emphasizes a traditional business setup (less dependence on online sales) since it’s impractical to ship frozen perishable goods great distances.
My main focus is to serve a certain community I wish to permanently reside in. Despite its limited job market, I value the laid-back, somewhat rural setting. My partner and I expect to assess feasibility this summer. If all goes well, I’ll add a storefront to the “My publications” tab. I’ll update my readers on progress, setbacks, or changes in plans.