Every time I write a blog post like this I mutter to myself, “this will be the last time I’ll need to reinforce this message.” But each time I’m reminded of our collective short memories.
Whether it’s a cruise ship disaster off the Italian coast that generates a frigid corporate response, a “communications guru” for Groupon that tries to quell investor concerns by saying “Every three months, Groupon is a different company,” (wtf?) or the recent demotion of a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue captain for bigoted comments he posted on Facebook regarding the Trayvon Martin shooting, people in positions of power – or anyone for that matter – fail to remember some simple communications truths when it comes to expressing thoughts and ideas in a public space.
And it’s especially true when that public space is Facebook and Twitter.
But before I dig deeper into the recent Wall Street Journal article that inspired this post, let’s set down a few definitions and lay the groundwork for some ideas. People tend to take a schizoid approach to their handling of social media. Many consider Facebook and Twitter one part public forum to voice concerns and express joy over life’s great events and its trivialities, and part personal-echo chamber-cum-sounding-board. In other words, they use it as their personal diary – either through lengthy posts or 140-characters.
Readers, the time has come to seriously reconsider that approach.
Last week, Gene Morphis, the Chief Financial Officer at Francesca’s Holdings Corp., a Houston-based women’s clothing company, was fired after a series of what were deemed offensive postings. While it’s unclear if the article’s pull quote from Morphis’ Twitter page was Francesca’s final straw, it read:
“Dinner w/Board tonite. Used to be fun. Now one must be on guard every second.”
When it came to his job security, he wasn’t kidding. Morphis should have been on guard – and kept his opinions a lot more guarded and certainly to himself.
A Generation of Oversharers
Of course, privacy settings can to some extent ensure that Facebook and Twitter remain private mediums, meant to be within narrow circles of approved friends. But regardless, they are not or should not be viewed strictly as digital diaries. Dictionary.com defines “diary” as the following: “a daily record, usually private, especially of the writer’s own experiences, observations, feeling, attitudes, etc.” When it comes to the web, the phrase “usually private” could afford to lose one term.
Morphis had been the company’s CFO since October 2010. And for two years he really raked in the dough, earning $1.2 million in 2010 and $565,720 in 2011, according to the article. Why the half million drop is another story. But earnings figures like that suggest that paychecks – even large ones – are no guarantee that a person is irreplaceable.
Social Media Ettitequte Lesson # 24: Don’t S@#! In Your Own Nest
The incident also serves as a reminder to PR professionals that as much as we help manage a company’s public message, it is not our responsibility to be everywhere and anywhere without a filter. Besides, policing people’s Facebook and Twitter accounts would be an invasion of privacy – even if social media has proven itself anything but private.
The lesson: People need the self-control and discipline to police themselves. So keep writing Facebook posts, keep Tweeting to your heart’s content, but be mindful of what you say. We may suffer from collectively truncated memories these days, but in the age of wireless information overload, news about sinking ships, racist commentary, and the musings of paranoid executives gets around pretty fast.
Speaking of short-term memory lapses, a quick check on Morphis’ Facebook page shows that as of Friday May 18, his employment status still reads: “Cfo · Oct 2010 to present · Houston, Texas.”
Didn’t he get the memo?
The rest of us sure did.