Facebook & Twitter Legitimate Threats for Your Company's Policy on Ethics?

Published: Apr 23, 2010


Yesterday I attended an event hosted by The Conference Board on Business Ethics & Compliance here in New York. The agenda on hand was business priorities in today's regulatory and enforcement environment. A majority of the attendees and panelists were lawyers and in various corporate ethics and compliance fields, sprinkled with some HR professionals.

Annual Board Meeting

Two separate observations made this conference stand out from an otherwise tepid affair involving a group of senior level executives discussing value-based ethics programs at companies. One was their willingness to recognize challenges posed by new developments like social media. Second, worryingly, was the complete absence of the company perspective in the dialogue, i.e., the company's duty toward ethical business practices and accountability.

Social Media

As far as the social media discussion goes, networks like Twitter and Facebook bring up many issues for businesses related to confidentiality, privacy policies, and reduced productivity. But the No. 1 concern, according to the panel—which comprised of ethics officers from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lincoln Financial and PepsiCo—was where to draw the line between personal and professional. As they presented different case studies, it was clear that they all recognized that it needed to be addressed.

One of the key speakers was Jude Curtis, the chief ethics and compliance officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who discussed his team's efforts in putting together an official "Social Media Policy." He was quick to emphasize though, that while the risks of allowing social media into the business were huge, the benefits are significant as well. Curtis further said that PwC considered it serious enough to set up a Social Media Steering Group and that they planned on reviewing their policy annually as the field evolves.

Also interesting was Pepsi's VP of Compliance, Stephen Noughton take as he discussed their latest peject, the Pepsi Refresh Project, which is targeted to capture the growing collective voice of social media. However, he did bring up an issue that remains unresolved and perhaps, might never have a clear cut answer: Does a potential candidate's presence on social media deserve a place in the traditional background check?

Emphasis on Ethics

As the discussion continued on various legislative requirements and arguments regarding the handling of ethical issues, I was struck by how disconnected the conversation was from how these ethics related to company actions and when strategizing new products and services. We all are asked to sign Code of Conducts at work, and maybe even an acknowledgement of the company's ethics and compliance policy. However, what happens when we flip this? What about the board signing an ethics policy that asks to adhere to the triple bottom line principal when making any strategic decisions? Sound untraditional? Well, it is, but it might not be for too long as corporate social responsibility gets concretely defined across board rooms and shifts from pure advocacy quests to instrumentally changing strategic direction at corporations.

Want some reference? Take a look at EMC where Chief Sustainability Officer Kathrin Winkler is instilling ethical considerations and sustainability in every core product and service line of the technology giant. There is a defined, numerically attractive and bottom line-enhancing argument for becoming responsible for our actions as decision makers. Ethics will soon have to bridge the gap from being solely an individual responsibility to a conscious presence in our business decisions as well. For those of you who remain happily ignorant, it's called sustainable capitalism.

See more coverage of the event on Twitter at #tcbethics. Add to the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR!