Watch Your Step! Pitfalls In Social Media To Avoid

Career bear-traps to avoid… 

It’s a major crisis for the company – the phones are ringing off the hook as the comms team is bombarded with furious questions from journalists, customers, shareholders, regulators. Announcements, FAQs, press briefings need preparing at lightning speed, and frustratingly every single one has to be approved by the lawyers before they go out. The pressure is on: this could cost the company business, there may be lawsuits – and anything said right now will be cited in those – the share price may come under pressure.

And into the midst of this, a colleague completely uninvolved in what’s going on decides to Tweet their personal view of the crisis. 

Procurious ran an excellent workshop at eWorld last week, talking about how procurement people might get more involved in social media. It’s a great subject, the profession has definitely been slower than some other disciplines in embracing these great communication channels. It was suggested though, that the comms department might get leery – having sat on the other side of that particular desk, here’s why.

Journalists, customers and the world at large don’t distinguish that much between official corporate statements and things that employees of a company happen to say. Especially in a crisis, any quotable quote or accidental off-hand comment will get used and repeated over and over – especially if the ‘proper channels’ have been locked down to repeating very limited information. As a fair few people have discovered in recent years, that can be career limiting – or, indeed, career terminating.

Here are five suggested rules to live (or at least, post) by, all from real life experience:

This isn’t personal

Our social media channels are our own personal domains. Right? Wrong. If you’ve chosen to use them to talk about your work then they’re properly of interest to your employer, too. Your contract and HR handbook will have blurb about confidentiality and not bringing the company into disrepute, and there’ll probably be a social media policy somewhere as well.

Our highly valued customer is useless!

So, you’ve read the policy and placed the disclaimer, ‘all views expressed only my own’ – so you can say what you like now, surely? Not quite. As a consumer, you may want to vent about the terrible service you received from some company: if they happen to be one of your firm’s biggest customers (and if your social media identifies you with your employer) you can expect an awkward conversation the next morning. If nothing else, it’s plain courtesy to your colleagues trying to renew that account not to make their job harder. 

A Tweet is for life, not just for Christmas

That was a witty comment about your big competitor, wasn’t it? So good it went viral, ended up all over the web. And on the desk of the grumpy interviewer when you apply for a job there three years later…

I probably shouldn’t say this, but 

You’re right, you shouldn’t say it. If you feel the need to write – as in the recent LinkedIn photo debacle – ‘this is probably horrendously politically incorrect’, then you can be pretty certain you shouldn’t go any further.

Crisis? What crisis? 

When your company is going through a crisis, let the team appointed to handle it, handle it. They may do a great job, they may make a mess of it, but sticking your oar in isn’t going to help. So your tweet was nothing to do with the crisis, it was just a photo of staff having a great time at a party. Oddly, that’s still not going to help the company’s reputation when the comms director has just reassured the world that every sinew is being strained to fix the problem.

Social media are great – there’s a whole other post in that. But tread carefully – or you may have that long and uncomfortable walk to the comms director’s office. Trust me, neither of us want you to be there.

Stuart Brocklehurst is Chief Executive of Applegate Marketplace. His past roles have included Group Communications Director of Amadeus IT Group SA and Senior Vice President for External Relations at Visa International CEMEA.