In light of recent social media related events, successes and complete failures, I have been thinking a lot about a phrase often uttered often at my parents’ house as a teenager, "it's a privilege, not a right." I used to hate that phrase, usually because the word "it's" was replaced with "driving is" as I was handing my keys over...but that's a story for another day :) When you hand the keys to your social media vehicles over to employees, reminding them that this responsibility is a privilege, not their right might help you avoid some embarrassing situations and instead help you shine in the social spotlight.
We now live in a culture that is dominated by a constant stream of information. In Social Media, that stream can be filtered by choosing to like/follow/+1 your news sources of choice, whether they are credible news outlets, bloggers, official band reps or just random folks that are of interest to you. What can't be filtered out is what's already posted; once that send button is pushed, it's in internetspace and there is no going back, no matter how quickly it's deleted.
Recently, I’ve seen a few great examples of social media responsibility as well as some utter disasters which is proving even further that while employee's have the right to free speech, they don't have the right to completely destroy your or someone else's reputation because they feel that a social media outlet is their personal venting session to the world. Those who are being responsible, however, are doing great things with their posts and words which is exciting and inspiring to see.
Responsible: @SugarlandMusic, twitter-home to the country band "Sugarland" was about to go on stage last Saturday at the Indiana State Fair when the stage collapsed killing 5 and injuring over 40. They could have said nothing or they could have blamed the fair who constructed the stage but instead they tweeted: "We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you'll join us. They need your strength." From there, they inspired people all across the twitterverse to alert their fans and friends to what was going on to do whatever they could do to support the people of Indiana.
Irresponsible: @EmmasPizza, twitter-home to Cambridge, Massachusetts based Emma's Pizza, has recently made some headlines for a tweet regarding a customer who expected free substitutions on their sandwich. The tweet went on to state that the sandwich was "nasty" and then further dug the hole deeper by calling the customer a "dumbass." This is where freedom of speech crosses a line because it causes the business to receive incredibly terrible PR. Now there is a responsibility component to this. The owner did apologize for "his" actions claiming that he was the tweet-offender. Most (myself included) don't believe that the owner who crafted a fairly eloquent apology could have been the one to post the original tweet but he took ownership of it anyway. I would have liked to see him explain what the store was doing about it (firing the actual offender, offering free substitutions for a week, etc) but this leads us to our next irresponsibility...
Irresponsible (with a responsible ending): @Chrysler, home to the car manufacturer's twitter account (controlled by a media firm) has probably received the most notoriety this year for a serious social media fail. A rep for their former firm tweeted on Chrysler's corporate account (instead of his personal): "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive." The f-bomb was uncensored and while it was quickly deleted, it was already seen by many which led to the demise of the young man's career with the media company. At first, they tried to sweep it under the rug by saying that their account had been compromised but later everyone involved took steps to rectify the situation by removing the employee from his job, apologizing via the Chrysler blog and then switching media companies. The most embarrassing part of the whole scandal for Twitter was their new (at the time) campaign touting their love for the motor city. What makes this incident stand out from Emma's Pizza is that they let their followers know what steps were being taken to make it better.
At the end of the day, we are all human. Human's do great things and inspire others, but we also make mistakes. What matters is how you handle the situation if you encounter an employee (or your own) blunder. I suggest either having a social media responsibility contract with them that outlines acceptable words, phrases and the like as well as the consequences for doing or saying anything that you deem irresponsible or detrimental to the company. You also have a responsibility to constantly monitor the posts and keep the lines of communication open with the poster(s) of what you think of their posts. If they aren't listening or following the rules, remember that it's their privilege to post on your social media outlets, not their right.