While I no longer consider social media a “new” tool in the marketing and communications tool box, we’re all still learning the proper ways to communicate on these digital platforms. Companies, universities and other organizations seem to be scrambling to define what can and cannot be said by its employees, and other associated individuals. Having managed potential crisis situations due to employees’ social media comments, and having authored social media guideline policies in past positions, I understand the need for these guidelines. Misuse of social media can have a profound negative impact on an employer, co-workers, customers, vendors, other third parties as well as your own personal reputation.
Take two recent examples. In October, Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN’s 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter, was suspended for two weeks for what the network referred to as a "a second violation of our social media guidelines.” Her comments on Twitter (while I won’t go into the details) were related to President Trump, racism and the national anthem. I’m sure you’ve seen or read plenty news on this topic recently.
Also in October, Hayley Geftman-Gold, vice president and senior legal counsel at CBS in New York, was fired after referring to victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting as “Republican gun toters”.
Now, some may argue that both instances could have simply been avoided, and maybe even more so the latter. Some may also argue First Amendment Rights: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I’m a firm believer in Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. But let’s be honest: in a workplace environment, you can’t simply tweet whatever you want at any given time. As stated above, negative impacts can follow. Therefore, organizations are now publishing or updating social media usage policies or guidelines.
On October 13, The New York Times made its own news by issuing, and publishing, an updated version of social media guidelines for its staff of journalists. While The New York Times version should not be considered the be all and end all of social media policies, I found the questions below to be excellent thought-starters for marketing, communications and/or human resources professionals in need of social policies:
- Would you express similar views in an article on The Times’s platforms?
- Would someone who reads your post have grounds for believing that you are biased on a particular issue?
- If readers see your post and notice that you’re a Times journalist, would that affect their view of The Times’s news coverage as fair and impartial?
- Could your post hamper your colleagues’ ability to effectively do their jobs?
- If someone were to look at your entire social media feed, including links and retweets, would they have doubts about your ability to cover news events in a fair and impartial way?
Yes, these questions are directly posed to The Times’ staff. But ask yourself these questions and replace The Times with your organization's name or your own name. How would you like your team and/or yourself perceived on social media? Remember, you can always delete a tweet, but those 140 characters can live on forever. Take the appropriate steps now to protect your organization’s reputation and the reputation of your staff by developing and implementing social media usage policies.
Are you in need of social media counseling, planning, development and/or management? Contact our team at MCCI!