Twitter has been a media darling of late. It seems every time I turn on the computer, or pick up a magazine, or newspaper (the few that do still exist) I trip across another article about Twitter that extolls its powers and virtues.
Even though I have set up a Twitter account for myself, I’m still debating about whether to jump in or not. Your employees may not be as ambivalent as I am. More and more people are actively twittering and it raises a thorny dilemma for business owners and employers. Should you “follow” your employees? And if you do, what happens if you discover a tweet that, um, ruffles your feathers? What action can, or should, you take?
Cutting edge technologies can create cutting edge headaches if not handled properly. Take for example the situation involving British Tottenham Hotspur soccer star Darren Bent. Mr. Bent has been eager to change ball clubs and has gotten a bit bent shall we say over the delays regarding the transfer fee negotiations involved in making such a switch. You guessed it. Instead of being politic, Mr Bent did the unpolitic thing of venting his frustration in a big tweet.
“Seriously getting pissed off now. Why can’t anything be simple. It’s so frustrating hanging around,” according to the Mirror.
He then rudely attacked the chairman of his current ball club in a tweet’ldum follow-up. Of course, the corner office was not at all amused. Bent was fined two weeks wages for the foul mouthed attack, or approximately US$130,000.
The Tottenham club is reportedly in the process of instituting new rules for players with Twitter and Facebook accounts. And Mr. Bent’s Twitter account? It’s been closed. Silenced.
No employer wants an internal matter aired in a public forum; yet, that is exactly what all of the social networking technologies place at our fingertips. They are highly accessible. You can send a tweet from a Blackberry. They are lightning fast. Hotheaded comments can be posted in a blink long before a cooling off period has begun to kick in. They often have no editorial filter beyond the user’s own judgment. As a result, the only thing separating your company’s dirty laundry (or its tradesecrets) from being aired in public is employee discretion.
Twitter is one example of how an employee’s right of self expression may at times be in conflict with an employer’s interest in preserving its reputation and assets. The two concepts don’t need to be mutually exclusive. One way to bridge the divide is to develop and communicate effective policies to help manage employee expectations about what is acceptable and unacceptable. The Tottenham club is not the only business adopting such rules and policies.
Rules or policies may sound draconian, but it helps avoid the “I didn’t know excuse” and when violated provides a baseline from which you can take action.