FOIMan reflects on how social media has benefitted his life and career, and considers their impact – good and bad – on individuals and employers. This piece accompanies a guest post at Blog Now.

socmed-ad1Later this year I’ll be celebrating five years of writing this blog and of its accompanying Twitter feed @foimanuk. When I started them, I had no idea of the impact they would have on my life.

Five years ago I considered myself fortunate to have a job that I didn’t hate, but was feeling a bit jaded and not at all sure where I was going career-wise. I enjoyed being an FOI Officer and information rights practitioner, but there wasn’t an obvious route for career progression. If I wanted a new job, it almost certainly meant going somewhere else at the same level, often doing the same things (or possibly doing more for less).

Now I work for myself – training, advising and writing. This year I’ve travelled to Brunei for work, and whilst my work doesn’t usually take me to such exotic climes, it certainly offers variety. And I don’t have a regular commute on a crowded train. Like all jobs, it has its frustrations, but I love what I do now in a way that I wouldn’t have conceived of back in 2010. And it has happened because of social media.

There have been downsides. I’ve got carried away and tweeted things I came to regret. I’ve been upset by reaction to one or two of my blogposts, and occasionally by what other people have written about me on Twitter and elsewhere. When I first unmasked myself, I was very nervous about how it would affect my job. Without the welcome perspective of Mrs F, I could very easily have become addicted and would never have put my phone down.

My experience illustrates the huge advantages and opportunities that social media offer, but also the tremendous risks that they pose to individuals and to the organisations that employ them. We’ve all cringed when a friend has overshared on Facebook, but what happens when they’re a social worker talking about a family they’re working with? What if someone leaves a comment on your website defaming a celebrity or politician? How do you react when your company is at the centre of a Twitter storm – your reputation being destroyed before your eyes? Are you liable if one of your employees posts a photo on your company blog without seeking permission from the photographer?

I’ve been looking at all these questions and others as part of my research for a new training course that I’m running for Act Now Training – Data Protection, The Law & Social Media. It’s a fascinating subject – how do our existing laws cope with new ways to create and share information? What are the implications of so much freedom? What practical steps should organisations take to protect themselves and their employees? The challenge is not finding material to include, but deciding what to leave out.

If you want to know more, please do read my guest post on the Blog Now website and perhaps consider joining me for one of the courses I’m running next month – details are in the Blog Now post or can be found on the Act Now Training website.