The whole social business concept rests on our comfort sharing things online, whether that's via a private network or out in the public sphere. Despite Facebook generally being the home of the lolcat and similar more recreational sharings, is there anything the history of the site can teach us about our comfort with sharing?
A new seven year study by Carnegie Mellon might shed some light on the issue. It set-out to explore how changes to the sites privacy settings influenced the amount and type of content people were sharing. They followed 5,000 Facebook users between 2005 and 2011 to see how attitudes shifted during that time.
The study revealed that users were sharing an increasing amount of personal information, partly in response to new Facebook features (such as Timeline) and partly due to growing comfort with sharing content online.
Intriguingly however, alongside this ran a concern amongst users for sharing the wrong sort of information with the wrong sort of people. For instance people were increasingly unlikely to divulge their telephone number as part of their profile.
It's also noteworthy that Facebook contributed to the growing wariness of users. In December 2009 the site tweaked their privacy settings, thus turning what was previously private content into public content. Such actions eventually resulted in the sites privacy settings attracting the attention of government regulators, who now audit the policy each year.
Other studies, such as the Pew research into our online habits, reveal that this matters. It found that an increasing number of people are taking a break from social networks, in large part because ensuring their privacy settings are secure is too much hassle.
Data is obviously central to Facebook's business model, but it's also central to many internal social network. Its value rests on the soliciting of knowledge from employees and sharing it with people that matter. The research shows that trust is crucial if people are going to post up candid information. Once that trust has been breached it's incredibly difficult to regain.
The importance of trust in social business
Whilst in external networks this revolves around ensuring data is only shared with the people within a network, in enterprise networks, trust revolves more around employees feeling comfortable sharing candid opinions, even if they're of a negative nature.
One could argue that this supports the role of anonymous posting. Sites such as Glassdoor for instance thrive because of the good and bad feedback employees leave about the companies they worked for. It has to be questioned whether people would be so candid if their names were associated with their comments.
Services such as Rypple also allow employee feedback to be protected by anonymity. The message is clear that whilst bosses may say they welcome frank feedback, in reality many employees are reluctant to provide it for the fear such openness would damage their career prospects.
As the Facebook research shows, if you abuse the trust people have in you, it's very difficult to get back.