Social Media Messes

Once again this weekend I saw a pair of leaders use Facebook to commiserate openly over a situation in which they felt mistreated by  their organization. While I think they may be on the right side of the issue, I cringed at how their venting undermines their credibility. Another leader frequently posts politically slanted articles with titles and content that make personal attacks on the parties and leaders he disagrees with. He receives plenty of “likes” from his insider group of supporters but I suspect he alienates many of the people he desires to reach with a message of greater importance. Or consider any of the public figures who have had their reputations compromised by their behaviour on twitter in recent years. Actors, athletes, politicians, and even corporations have found themselves in very awkward situations when their tweets become news for all the wrong reasons. Social media is a remarkable thing and like any technology it reveals both the best and the worst of humanity, and leadership. The ease of access it provides allows everyone to enter into conversations that were previously controlled and monitored by a privileged few; and this is mostly a good thing. Many people simply don’t understand how it works. They don’t realise that their posts, tweets, pics, and chats are, or can easily become, more public than they may intend. They haven’t learned that the internet doesn’t allow for much in the way of tone or subtlety. As with any form of communication, effective use of social media means considering how it is likely to be perceived. We’ve all seen it misused and abused, and the tendency in some organizations is to create “Social Media Policies” to attempt to control both the team and the message. This rarely works. Far better to treat our people with respect, provide them with an organization that draws out their best the vast majority of the time, enables them to share frustrations internally easily, and trains them to use every form of media to represent themselves and the organization well. The best social media policy is: Don’t be a jerk. How do you use social media? How do you avoid misusing it?