Social Media: Think Before You Share
By Tony Kontzer Technological innovation brings with it a Darwinian imperative, in that human beings--and, by association, the companies they work for--must adapt to each new tool they're given.
For instance, E-mail forced us to adjust to the fact that the black-and-white messages we send simply don't transmit any hint of inflection, rendering our words cold and flat. Using it to get a quick question answered by a co-worker? Totally effective. Using it to hash out issues with a family member? Not so much.
Social media ratchets things up a notch with its ability to let us broadcast messages to our entire little world. When the thoughts we casually throw out there are being read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people, it's critical that we think before we share. That lesson is no doubt being mulled over by all the dolts in the National Football League who jumped on Twitter during the NFC Championship Game last month to question the toughness of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for sitting out the second half due to what they perceived to be a minor injury. The next morning they awoke to reports that Cutler had sprained his medial collateral ligament and been ordered out by team doctors.
Back in the real business world, the consequences have become more serious, as employees' social media posts are shared in the workplace by other employees. Just ask Dawnmarie Souza, who last week settled a lawsuit against her former employer, American Medical Response, which had fired Souza over a Facebook post critical of her supervisor.
It may have worked out for Souza in the end, but it sure is a reminder that Big Brother is, in fact, watching you.
Trashing peers and supervisors is disturbing enough, but this topic really conked me in the head like an anvil when I read a recent letter in the advice column, "Dear Amy." The letter is written by a customer service rep who was fired from his job as the result of an angry customer's Twitter post. The fired employee used the "Dear Amy" forum to plead with the public to "count to 10" before posting angry messages about employees on social media platforms. Given that such posts are pretty much on about a first-grade level, counting to 10 sounds about right to me.
The customer service rep's plight got me thinking how, with companies now accepting customer feedback via Facebook pages and monitoring Twitter posts about them, there's a lot of opportunity for decision-makers to over-react to a non-event.
In other words, businesses need to be careful with what technology hath wrought. CIOs--who no longer are mere geek overlords, and should feel comfortable acting as caretakers for the overall business--may sometimes need to protect the business from itself. Social media has afforded companies an intimate yet severely limited connection with their customers, meaning any information they glean from that connection should be taken with a grain of salt.
When companies follow what's being said on Twitter, they're essentially accessing what previously would have been private thoughts. And in all likelihood, they probably should have stayed private thoughts. Using them anonymously to create a generalized database of customer sentiment would make perfect business sense. Taking action based on them is ludicrous in the least, and creepy at the most.
As CIOs are called upon to set up these social media information loops, a healthy dose of caution is in order when weighing how all that new information should be handled.