Oh, the almighty Internet. How we love and despise thee. As we’re all Facebooking and Tweeting our lives away, it’s out with the days of freedom of expression and in with the days of online community surveillance. Okay, maybe that’s a bit bleak. But as we see again and again, you better be careful about what you do and say on the Internet. It might just cost you your job.
Let’s take a look at the unfortunate example of KitchenAid. In early October, somebody who worked for KitchenAid tweeted a joke about President Barack Obama’s late grandmother. If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.
Naturally, people were furious. Then ensued the expected twitterpologies, tut-tutting by other users, and essentially the spectacle of a brand shooting itself in the foot and then trying to get back up again. In KitchenAid’s defense, the company rep explained that the offending tweet went up on the KitchenAid twitter because a member of the team had mistaken the KitchenAid handle for a personal handle. Unfortunately for KitchenAid, this defence is irrelevant in the first place. Let’s face it: it doesn’t matter one bit where you’re stating your opinion online. If you’re putting content onto the Internet, you better expect that everybody you know, personally and professionally, has access to your statements.
Don’t believe me? I invite you to have a little midday chuckle by looking at this article from businessinsider. As you can see, there are smart, respected, and successful people out there who have tweeted the wrong thing in impulsive moments… and gotten straight-up fired for it. Really, what did they expect?
Just consider how prevalent social media networks are in our lives. Almost every website you visit displays a running twitter feed; most of us are on Facebook; the platform of twitter allows us to access millions of users’ thoughts they post online. What are the chances that an ignorant tweet would go unnoticed? Pretty low, especially if you are a multinational company. With online dashboards like Hootsuite, where you can manage multiple accounts (both personal and professional), it makes it even easier to mix up your message.
However, even big corporations don’t have it figured out yet. In late September, Microsoft accidentally tweeted liberal economist Robert Reich, who was in New York to visit his granddaughter and to sit on a panel with Ann Coulter, that “@RBREICH your granddaughter’s level of discourse and policy > those of Ann Coulter”. Microsoft deleted the tweet later, and, like KitchenAid, blamed it on an employee who mistook the corporate twitter hold for their personal twitter hold. Again, this defense is an awful excuse. Yes, it’s the individual tweeter’s responsibility to conduct themselves professionally online – but it’s also the company’s responsibility to make sure the tweeter understands that. The company needs to take ownership of the kinds of people they’re hiring to manage their social media networks. If the people they’re hiring don’t have the wherewithal to realize that what they put online will reflect on their employer, too, then it’s the company’s job to make their employees get that notion in their heads. Stuff that goes wrong on the Internet isn’t a joke. A single tweet can be a serious blow to a brand’s credibility, trustworthiness, and image.
So here’s a little word of warning to business owners and their employers: always think before you tweet! It may seem trivial, but take that extra step to review what you write, because what you put online Never. Ever. Disappears.