One President, One Rapper, One Reporter and One “Jackass” Show the Need for Social Media Policies

In what has proven to be a rather timely development given our ongoing discussion of how risk management may intersect with social media, yesterday an ABC employee “tweeted” (i.e., sent a message on Twitter) indicating that President Obama called hip hop producer and rapper Kanye West a “jackass” while the Commander in Chief was having a casual, off-the-record conversation about the for the stunt Kanye pulled (reportedly while drunk) at the MTV Video Music Award show on Sunday.

For the uninitiated, known-eccentric Kanye West jumped up on stage after country recording artist Taylor Swift won the award for Best Female Video and took the microphone away from her so he could voice his opinion that his friend Beyoncé should have won since she had “created one of the best videos of all time.”

By all accounts — even one from Mr. West himself last night on the premiere of the new Jay Leno show — Kanye acted like a jackass. So the fact that Obama said so is not the issue that’s relevant here (or, anywhere, in my opinion).

The issue relevant to social media is that the ABC employee tweeted an off-the-record comment, which led to it later having to be deleted and ABC having to issue a formal apology. Still, the whole incident surrounded a highly innocuous comment about a silly pop culture event so, ultimately, all of this comes down to is “no harm, no foul.” In and of itself, this particular event is not significant.

But it does show how one momentary lapse in judgement can lead to something that could be a potentially large issue. What if a reporter erroneously quotes someone in social media? What if they write something too quickly that turns out not to be just “off the record” but actually incorrect? Sports Illustrated did just that before sending out this erroneous announcement that Roger Federer won the US Open. Again, this wasn’t a particularly serious issue, so it’s not a big deal — only slightly embarrassing for SI.

But what if the comment is libelous? What if someone announced something that they overheard at a dinner party about a much more contentious issue like, say, the Valerie Plame fiasco? As a rule, a journalist needs at least two sources confirming something as fact before they publish, but even a generally professional journalist could slip up and “publish” something erroneously on Twitter. That could very likely lead to a lawsuit.

Much like the ESPN post from the other day, this post again deals with the media’s use of social media. Indeed, a lot of the discussion of Web 2.0 issues surrounds the traditional media simply because sites like ABC and ESPN have embraced it earlier and more vigorously than the average Fortune 500 company. But, as our upcoming October feature on social media points out, whether or not a company itself has actually embraced social media matters little. Undoubtedly, some of its employees have.

So what happens when some “Senior Director of GE” is attending a corporate party and, after a few too many glasses of wine, says something on FaceBook or Twitter like “Looks like our CEO is drinking scotch and hitting on his assistant again”? Maybe nothing. But maybe someone influential sees this and passes it on to someone else and, before you know it, headlines like “Drunk Jeffrey Immelt Hits on Secretaries” pop up on various business blogs.

A lot of critics who think ESPN has overreacted with its social networking policy feel that the company’s parent, Disney (who just so happens to also own ABC), is trying to censor reporting. But a good social media policy isn’t about censorship. It’s simply a reminder to let employees know that what they say digitally is public and will not just be seen by their friends — it could potentially be seen by anybody. A lot of people still don’t understand that. So it’s really just a reminder and a way to educate your employees on common sense.

And this isn’t anything new.

Every year before the RIMS Conference, we have a pre-conference meeting where we go over all the many details of the event with a fine-tooth comb. Mainly, we go over things like who needs to be where when and which hotels everyone is staying at and who to contact if there is a problem with a presentation projector. Innocuous stuff. But there is also a reminder to all the staff that, for the duration of the conference, we are representing RIMS. If we happen to be invited to an Aon dinner event where wine and beer will be served, we are expected to continue being professional and not doing anything that would make RIMS look bad.

That message is really just common sense. It’s the same “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the cover of the Wall Street Journal” advice that people have been preaching for decades, with maybe the extra caveat of “and don’t write anything…” as well.

But a lot of people don’t think about this simple concept in the context of social media until it is actually told to them. That’s why social media policies can be valuable. Many people see social media sites like Twitter as the equivalent of an “after work party” where clearly restricted behaviors are allowed. In the article, I think I refer to it as “people treating it like the break room” or the water cooler. People do and say things in social media that they normally wouldn’t if they thought someone was watching or if they thought there was an expectation of professionalism.

A social media policy, no matter the details that each individual company writes down, is in essence no more than an official reminder that you need to be professional as an employee at all times, both in the office and when you’re talking about anything work-related on the internet. It’s all about education.

Moving on…

In related news, I recently learned about a free 3D Virtual Event on Social Media 101 presented by Digitell Inc. I’ve never attended anything they have put on before and am not sure what the 3D part means so I can’t vouche for its overall quality, but it’s only an hour long and should help anyone unfamiliar with the core social media concepts get up to speed. Plus, the guy giving the class has one of the more intriguing bios I’ve read recently.

Growing up in New Zealand surrounded by 60 million sheep Mike learned a thing or two about standing out in a crowd (human or on four legs!). He also learned that by simply following the flock you end up getting eaten! In his later travels to (live and work in) Australia he learned that a dead kangaroo on the side of the road will attract a lot of flies, but doesn’t get to benefit from all that attention … With his experience working on three continents and a wealth of knowledge in mass communications, social media, marketing, new product development and customer service Mike loves to use his knowledge to help others. His only requirement is that everyone have funalong the way – because life is just too short to do otherwise.

Those of you without a full hour to kill may want to just read this article called “Understanding the Users of Social Media” from the Harvard Business School instead. (Or, if you don’t even have time for a full article, just check here for the main findings of Harvard professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski’s research.)

Here’s the main point of the article.

If the ongoing social networking revolution has you scratching your head and asking, “Why do people spend time on this?” and “How can my company benefit from the social network revolution?” you’ve got a lot in common with Harvard Business School professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski.

Only difference: Piskorski has spent years studying users of online social networks (SN) and has developed surprising findings about the needs that they fulfill, how men and women use these services differently, and how Twitter—the newest kid on the block—is sharply different from forerunners such as Facebook and MySpace. He has also applied many of the insights to help companies develop strategies for leveraging these various online entities for profit.

Lastly, I had this chart emailed to me recently, which shows that even many media companies have still not begun embracing social media. Whether this is due to fear, unfamiliarity or disinterest, I’m not sure. (It’s probably a combo of the three with the last two being much more significant.) But it is yet another interesting graph I’ve received in my inbox from Silicon Alley Insider’s “Chart of the Day” mailing list.

If you’re interested in random visual factoids, it may be worth signing up for.

news and social media

rowing up in New Zealand surrounded by 60 million sheep Mike learned a thing or two about standing out in a crowd (human or on four legs!). He also learned that by simply following the flock you end up getting eaten!
In his later travels to (live and work in) Australia he learned that a dead kangaroo on the side of the road will attract a lot of flies, but doesn’t get to benefit from all that attention.
While working and traveling in Europe Mike saw how determined people would eventually break down a symbolic wall holding back ideas.
And since arriving in the United States Mike has learned that talking funny and thinking differently can be both a blessing and a curse…so he works hard at making it a blessing!
His broad general knowledge means no one ever wants to play Trivial Pursuit with him, but it also means he enjoys connecting random thoughts to solve problems…big and small.
With his experience working on three continents and a wealth of knowledge in mass communications, social media, marketing, new product development and customer service Mike loves to use his knowledge to help others. His only requirement is that everyone have funalong the way – because life is just too short to do otherwise

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