Remember when your Grade 2 teacher chastised you for tattling on the kid eating his crayons? This is why. A social media specialist loses her job after tweeting about employees taking off early on a Friday, and here’s what we can all learn from her experience.
Vanessa Williams, a social media specialist with Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp, lost her job due to a tweet on the company’s official Twitter account. On Friday June 3rd, Vanessa tweeted: “We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?” By Saturday June 4th, she had been given her walking papers, and according to President and CEO Phil Mitman in an article in the Morning Call of Allentown, the decision was in part because of her tweet.
He noted: “I think this is an interesting lesson for all of us about the use of social media and about how chatty and how much information goes out there immediately and what the consequences are.” He referred to the tweet as “out of line” and went out of his way to point out that while the company does allow its employees to leave work early on Fridays if they’ve completed a 40 hour work week, no one left early on Friday June 3rd.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. is partly funded by tax dollars, so when a follow up to Williams’ tweet asked if the company would be more productive if their employees stayed at work until 5pm, it struck a chord. The agency tweeted various messages, attempting to smooth over the situation. One read: “critical staff stay here all day. Always have someone here from (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) M-F.” Another noted: “Nobody teeing off today. Too much work to do short week with Monday.”
At first glance, the whole thing seems a little ridiculous. Was Williams “telling” on her co-workers? Maybe. But, it is more likely that Williams intended the tweet to generate discussion. Moreover, with major public figures making far bigger missteps on twitter, the incident seems like nothing more than a blip. Except, Williams lost their job. So what can you learn from her misfortune?
For employers, there are two major lessons. The first concerns the position of social media expert. What makes someone a social media expert? Because social media is so new, the qualifications vary widely. As such, it’s important that employers don’t assume that just because someone tweets or uses Facebook, they will automatically understand the differences between personal tweeting and business tweeting. It’s important to lay out clear expectations and boundaries in regards to what information can be released to the public and in what tone that information should be communicated.
Moreover, employers must understand the nature of social media. It is a short form, casual, communication medium. One of the risks of using it is more PR missteps. Basically, if one doesn’t like heat, they probably shouldn’t approach the fire. Is admitting employees sneak out early on Friday a PR disaster? It probably didn’t have to be. Engaging in social media means a company needs to tweak its threshold for minor controversies. If you’re company can’t do that, your social media strategies need to reflect that.
For employees, it is an ever important reminder that it is essential to demand clear policies and expectations from employers before engaging in social media. If the company is asking you to speak on their behalf in the twitter-verse, you have the right to know how they expect that communication to take place. If they can’t provide clear guidelines, proceed with caution.
Finally, perhaps the most important lesson is that in the age of information you never know what story might be picked up. The Associated Press might find your story – about a Friday golf twitter – and suddenly your company’s name is all over the internet. And, not necessarily in the way you would like. Kind of makes a tweet about golfing on Fridays look like small potatoes.