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.