Can You Really Say ANYTHING on Facebook?

Author: Jack Martin

Surely. But as the staff ‘old guy’ in my office, having seen the trials and tribulations and unintentional faux pas of business communications for nearly four decades, it never ceases to amaze me the content what shows up at times on some of the Social Media channels. Besides the inevitable political sniping, the cute babies, kitties and snarky commentary, the anonymity of the keyboard can imply a level of freedom that just may not be there. Especially important is when the social medium is used for business communication.

The social media realm is the ultimate Content Management System (CMS) vehicle, allowing anyone to comment or add to anything virtually anytime. And sometimes, it even makes sense or has value to someone else! What happens, however, when one goes over the line, takes things too lightly, or just plain offends? Without being able to look the receiver of your message in the eye (much akin to email recipients), you run the risk, and indeed, a very large risk, of miscommunication.

Ben Popken, a contributor to NBC News The Bottom Line, writes of the story of a regional, Montana-based ice cream manufacturer who maintained a social media presence for their corporation on Facebook. The company evidently received an inquiry from a U.S.-based Muslim client asking whether or not the 103 year-old company used any pork derivatives in the gelatin used in their manufacturing process. The CEO responded that they only shipped to Montana, and not Pakistan. The client lived in neighboring Wyoming, where the ice cream company did, indeed, deliver. The remark was questioned as racist, assuming (erroneously) that no Muslim could live in the trading area of the manufacturer. The upshot of the case has the errant CEO volunteering to resign over the comment.

The hasty, almost flippant response had a farther reaching impact than the CEO had ever anticipated. It certainly gives one pause to think what kind of responses have you entered into any of the social media channels you use on a daily basis?

Have you said anything –

Potentially hurtful?
Able to be misconstrued by a client, employee or coworker?
Harsher than you meant it to be?

PC World provided a semi-tongue-in-cheek compilation of the 10 Commandments of Social Media Etiquette in their July 2012 online posting, including:

Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Not Tell Thy Friends Too Much
Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Turn Social Media Into Thine Own Personal Pulpit
Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Not Turn Social Media Into Thine Own Personal Complaint Forum
Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Not Pretend Thou Art CNN, ESPN, or TMZ
Commandment #5: Thou Shalt Not Pretend Thou Art a Guru
Commandment #6: Thou Shalt Keep Thy Size Obsessions to Thyself
Commandment #7: Thou Shalt Not Be a “Social Media Expert”
Commandment #8: Thou Shalt Not Put Social Media on Autopilot
Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Not Share Information That Maketh Sense Only to Thyself
Commandment #10: Thou Shalt not Show Thy Friends Images That They Shall Regret Seeing

Certainly not rocket science, but the old adage from Ben Franklin “…When in doubt, Don’t…” seems to come into play here. Think carefully before you post. Be sure everything you post is in keeping with the spirit in which it was intended. Ironic, that the same kinds of caution I have used with my children for decades or so are also germane in the business world! Once it is out there, it is difficult (nay, impossible) to retract. And, your audience, (because of the wonders of the electronic media) is global. Your impact, as the CEO certainly has experienced, can be swift and dire.

Establish your own internal social media policies, if not working with a third party professional; to advise you on proper electronic etiquette.