Maintaining a “Work-Life” Balance On Social Media

In 2011, John Paton of the Journal Register Co. posted three simple rules for using social media—they were so simple, in fact, that they were blank. His point was that JRC was not inclined to dictate social media behavior, trusting in employee’s instincts for propriety and decorum.

Must of us know how we are expected to behave when wearing our professional hats, and do a good job of sticking to those standards when on the job. The difficulty with social media is the inevitable blurring of personal and professional lives that occurs online. While journalists’ getting in trouble for things said and done in their spare time is nothing new, social media presents unprecedented opportunity for embarrassment and brand damage. Consider former New York Times reporter Andrew Goldman’s offensive comments about author Jennifer Weiner posted on his Twitter account. Or the links posted last year on the personal Facebook page of then-Essence editor Michael Bullerdick, construed by many as racist. Just last week, Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson was fired for remarks made in Twitter.

“The ubiquity and rapid evolution of social networks can make it difficult to define the line between personal and professional expression,” reads a social media policy for Bloomberg journos leaked in 2011. “To be clear, as a journalist at Bloomberg anything we publish is considered a professional act. This doesn’t preclude keeping a personal profile. It simply means that we are responsible for the content of that profile, and that anything we communicate must meet the company’s guidelines and standards.”

Another consideration for employers is whether social media policies infringe on protected employee speech as defined by the National Labor Relations Board. Under these rules, as noted by Poynter this week, admonitions such as “Avoid harming the image and integrity of the company” could run afowl of the NLRB, though the board has ruled in favor of employers when posts are not about work-related matters.

Doing it Right

Most often, good social media practice attempts to protect the image of a company while not infringing too much on an individual’s freedom to express personal views. A common strategy is to include a simple disclaimer in one’s personal Twitter account stating that the opinion’s expressed are one’s own.

“It seems simple, but there is actually a lot of weight behind the idea,” says Meredith Chapman, social media director at the University of Delaware. “If you are a reporter who has amassed a large social media following, it allows you to stay neutral for the story in the Twitter-verse’s eyes if you can use that disclaimer to create some distance.”

On Facebook, a common mistake Chapman sees is people creating multiple Facebook profiles. In addition to being against Facebook’s rules, multiple profiles can create confusion and do little to solve the “work-life” conundrum. Better, Chapman says, is to use Facebook lists to designate certain posts as for family and friends only, or use Facebook + Journalists to maintain a professional profile.

For more from Chapman on best practices in social media, be sure to check out our Q&A with her, which will be posted on our website when we launch Sept. 23. Check back with this blog and follow us on Twitter for updates and more information.

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What We Can Learn From the GQ Social Media ‘War’

Yesterday, Fashionista.com reported “One Direction Fans Wage Twitter War Against GQ Magazine.”

The quick story: Fans of the band One Direction didn’t like how GQ promoted the fact that the band members would be on GQ covers, so they bashed (and threatened) GQ on Twitter. GQ took the bashing with a good sense of humor (its responses made me and likely many others laugh), but the somewhat surreal Twitter “war” brings up a serious question about how best to handle sensitive (even seemingly irrational) social media situations.

The ever-so-slightly more in-depth story: 

According to the article:
Yesterday, British GQ announced that each member of One Direction would score his own cover of the September issue. You would think their fans would be excited to see their idols looking like scruffed-up #menswear hotties–but you would be wrong. You see, fans took offense to the quotes used to tease the feature story. So they did what any irrational teen-based fandom would do: They took to Twitter to hurl threats–lots of inanimate objects ‘up the butthole’–at the magazine.”

Fans mistakingly targeted the U.S. GQ magazine first, but then refocused their bashing efforts on the British version.

As cited on Fashionista, GQ’s social media manager Nate Erickson, was attacked personally, with Tweets such as: “@NATELY You should run for your f*!#ing life cause you messed with the wrong people. Please f*!# off and take your magazine with you.” (The f-bombs were omitted here—but not in the Tweets, just to clarify.)

What I found interesting was GQs’ (both the British and the U.S. editions) response to the Twitter war, or Twar, as I like to call it. As Fashionista explained, “GQ is taking these threats VERY seriously.” (I smelled sarcasm immediately.) It then quoted one of Erickson’s Tweets: “We’re working actively to identify the suspects, and we’ve got two of our best detectives on the case,” linking to this photo of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen in detective gear.”

Fashionista also reported that “British GQ also has posted a list of some of their scariest tweets received.”

The U.S. and British magazines even Tweeted back and forth making light of the situation, joking that their magazines were both horrible and that’s “what makes them beautiful.”

I admit I laughed. I am one of the first to appreciate humor and sarcasm, and to wish people would get a life instead of lashing out over what seems flat-out ridiculous. Many, many people seem to jump at the chance to just be angry and attack someone. Anyone. Anything. And threats involving shoving a doll up someone’s “bumhole”? Really? Really? (Yes, I meant to write that twice.)

Personally, I would like to say, “Good for you,” to the GQ staff, and “thank you for making me laugh.”

But, professionally, it brought up an important question for media brands. When, if ever, is it appropriate to make fun of and even insult a fan base or potential fan base? Is minimizing the voices of and poking fun at critics, even harsh and threatening ones, a good idea?

Fashionista’s Tyler McCall, who wrote the article, thinks GQ handled the Twar well: “All social media hate aside: We suspect most of these #Directioners (like, uh, me) will still be buying all five covers. Social media: GQ Magazine is doing it right.”

And again, while I’d “like to agree, I wonder: Is it a good idea to prod an angry bear—a sizable group of bears, nonetheless—in a day and age where readers are not exactly easy to come by? Or in any day and age? Is this a case of any publicity is good publicity?

Internationally known social media and marketing guru Sundeep Kapur applauds the use of humor. “I like the way the ‘wrong’ GQ magazine handled the interaction,” he says.

And, while in this case, humor may risk making some enemies among the One Direction fandom, Kapur stresses that it can be an effective tactic for use in social media. “A few lessons for brands,” he says. “First, make your social media profile easily available on all your sites and messages. Next, make sure you monitor the conversation so you can respond. Third, think about leveraging some of your key fans into the conversation to speak on your behalf. Fourth, leverage the following and interaction from the other side. Fifth, maintain calm—and, yes, humor and charm goes a long way in making friends.”

What do you think?