Similar to Jeremiah Owyang's "Chronology of Brands that Got Punk'd by Social Media," this piece provides examples of individuals and organizations that have recently "earned" nominations to the Digital Hall of Shame. It also offers resources and recommendations to better manage digital activity and interactions to avoid legal and other risks. Readers are invited to contribute to the list of cautionary tales and to provide additional resources and recommendations.
Although a certain Congressional representative from New York has dominated recent discussions, his lapse in judgment is, unfortunately, not as uncommon as we might assume. Over the past several months, since publishing "Social Media Policies: Necessary but not Sufficient," I have learned of numerous new nominees for the Digital Hall of Shame. I have written about some of these cases (see Related Resources section below), but there have been so many "what were they thinking?" examples that I couldn't specifically address all of them.
And the list is only going to grow! Before it gets too unwieldy, I thought I'd capture, share and reflect on the cases I currently know about. Though I don't relish learning of others' misfortunes, I invite everyone to share examples as well. This is definitely an area in which it's better to learn from the mistakes of others to avoid their same fate.
I think it'd be particularly valuable to create something similar to Jeremiah Owyang's Chronology of Brands that Got Punk'd by Social Media, which continues to be updated three years after it was originally posted! Although overlap between the two collections is inevitable, the focus isn't identical. Owyang's emphasis is primarily on marketing mistakes, whereas mine is on managing risks through the development and enforcement of sound contracts, policies, and guidelines.
More "What Were They Thinking?" Examples
The Digital Hall of Shame has two main wings: one for individuals and one for organizations. Listed below are links to some of the cautionary tales that have been brought to my attention that I've not specifically written about previously. Most of these examples are from the past few months, but several are older.
The links below are only intended to introduce the stories and provide a brief overview. I encourage people to search for additional coverage to ensure they have complete information and multiple perspectives.
Here are examples of individuals who were fired or disciplined by their employers (or perhaps should have been) for inappropriate Facebook and Twitter activity:
- Facebook post costs waitress her job
- Teacher fired over 'friending'
- Teacher mocks student's hairdo on Facebook
- Police Lesson: Social Network Tools Have Two Edges
- Paterson Teacher Suspended Over a Post on Facebook
- Facebook posts cost firefighter his job
- 8 Journalists Who Were Fired for Tweeting, Part 1
- 8 Journalists Who Were Fired for Tweeting, Part 2
- Official Exits State Dept. After Jabs at Pentagon
- US Secret Service Apologizes For 'Blathering' FOX News Tweet
Concerns about inappropriate social networking activity are not limited to employees. Here are some examples of problems that resulted from the actions of a student, a juror in a criminal trial, a celebrity spokesperson, and representatives of a couple public relations firms:
- University Aide Resigns Over Blog Item
- Facebook juror sentenced to eight months for contempt (here is an example of sample juror instructions)
- Comedian Gilbert Gottfried Jokes About Japan, Loses Aflac Job
- Chrysler Splits With New Media Strategies Over F-Bomb Tweet
- Twitter tantrum sinks Duke Nukem Forever PR agency
Click here for more on the Aflac/Chrysler stories from the New York Times.
Although organizations are justifiably concerned about the negative impact that individual actions can have on their brands and reputations, they can sometimes go too far in trying to minimize their risks and engage in damage control. Here are several stories that demonstrate how overreacting and acting impulsively in the face of a perceived issue can cause greater harm than the precipitating event itself:
- Tweet costs Pa. worker her job and Woman in Twitter firing wants name cleared
- Videos 'Ripped' From Online-Course Footage Bring Threats to Instructors and Missouri Campus Officials Absolve Labor Instructor in Video Controversy
- Elements Of NPR Gotcha Video Taken Out Of Context and NPR: O'Keefe 'Inappropriately Edited' Video; Exec's Words Still 'Egregious'
- 'Negative' Facebook Post Gets Student Barred From Commencement
As noted above, my interest in these and similar stories is rooted in my focus on managing Digital Era risks, especially from a human capital management perspective. I've written rather extensively about social media governance issues, particularly legal and policy considerations and community rules and guidelines. Here are links to pieces that provide additional examples, discuss some of the issues in greater depth, and provide specific recommendations.
- Social Media Policies and Guidelines
- Social Screening
- The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
- The NLRB's Recent Action: Separating Fact from Fiction - and Unfounded Fear
- The NLRB "Facebook Settlement:" Let's Focus on the Facts
- Is the NLRB Turning up the "Social Media Heat" too High? No... Not Yet
Words to the Wise
As I reflect on these latest Digital Hall of Fame nominees, as well as other less dramatic lapses in judgment and inappropriate exchanges, I'm reminded of some of the recommendations I've shared previously, plus a few new ones...
Recommendations for Individuals:
- Define your personal privacy rules and establish the proper settings on the digital platforms and social networks in which you engage. Recheck the settings at least once a quarter.
- Monitor your digital identity/brand regularly by setting up something like Google Alerts on your name.
- Even if you have tight security settings, never assume any digital communication is truly private. Your connections may feel no obligation to maintain confidences you share via social networks. In fact, some of them may have a duty to report activity that appears to violate laws and/or policies. For that matter, so may you.
- Know the rules and play by them. This includes laws (e.g., defamation), contracts (e.g., confidentiality agreements), employer policies, and community guidelines.
- Take the higher ground - and stay there. Maintain civil discourse at all times. Avoid swearing, salaciousness, sarcasm and snarkiness. Don't engage in or dignify personal and ad hominem attacks. Keep your emotions in check and focus on facts. Take conversations offline when necessary.
- Remember that even though the flow of information cyberstreams may be rapid, the pool into which they end up doesn't evaporate. Old activity can come back to haunt you if it's not purged. Always think before you tweet, blog, comment, provide a status update, etc.
Recommendations for Organizations:
- Expecting individuals to use "common sense" and "good judgment," or to "not do anything stupid" is naïve and potentially dangerous. That doesn't mean it's necessary to be draconian or overly bureaucratic, but there's no good reason not to acquire a reasonable level of insurance that fairly balances the needs and perspectives of multiple stakeholders.
- Policies and contracts should be reviewed and updated to address Digital Era risks. If necessary, new policies and contracts should be written.
- Organizations that are actively engaged in social media should develop posting guidelines for both employees and other participants.
- Consequences for rule violations of all types should be reasonable, clear, fair, and enforceable. Punishments should fit the crimes.
- Develop "crisis management" plans for handling the inevitable problems that will arise.
- Respond swiftly but don't overreact.
- Verify, verify, verify.
- Educate employees and other brand agents/representatives about the rules and your expectations. Remind them about the rules regularly, through various channels and in various ways.
- Later, rinse, repeat. Plan to revisit certain policies and contracts at least once a quarter, to ensure they're current. Update training and communication to reflect any changes you make.
I'll continue to share examples as I learn of them through the SMinOrgs LinkedIn group and Twitter channel, and will add comments here as appropriate. As I mentioned in the introduction, I think it'd be valuable to create something similar to Jeremiah Owyang's Chronology of Brands that Got Punk'd by Social Media,so I invite everyone to share examples of social media gaffes (by both individuals and organizations) that can serve as cautionary tales. I also welcome additional recommendations for preventing these gaffes and/or mitigating their impact. And of course feel free to ask and/or answer questions. Together we can help define best practices by learning from worst practices. Thanks!
- Courtney Hunt