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True Life Tales of Social Media Gone Bad

May 5th, 2010 ::

by Robin Ferrier

Image: jessicafm / Jessica Merz, Flicker Creative Commons

In the category of “great minds think alike,” Patti Nuttycombe Cochran sent in her post about career ending social media moves as I was contemplating a similar post. But I had a slightly different approach to this topic that actually provides a good follow-up to her post.

You may think her warnings were bluster and overblown cautionary tales that don’t apply to you. Others thought that as well… or just didn’t think, as the stories below will show. So, without further ado, I present: True Life Tales of Social Media Gone Bad… Very, Very Bad

Twitter, Memphis and FedEx: In 2009, a PR rep hopped on a flight to Memphis, Tennessee, to give a presentation about digital media to a large group of FedEx executives and staff. As he was landing, the employee tweeted his unflattering feelings about Memphis. A FedEx employee discovered the tweet and shared it with executives at FedEx and the PR agency for which the rep worked.

The employee was lucky in this case. The client forgave him and he wasn’t fired. But this move could have been a career ender if the circumstances were different — say, if the rep in question was only starting to establish his reputation (like we assume many of our readers are) or if FedEx wasn’t so forgiving and had pulled their business from the PR agency in question. (Read more about this story at Peter Shankman’s blog or ZDNet.)

The moral: Think before you tweet.

Twitter and the CiscoFatty: In 2009, a twitter user received an offer from Cisco. The user responded by sending the following tweet: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” A “channel partner advocate” for Cisco Alert saw the tweet and responded. And, thus, another internet sensation is born. We’re not sure whether Cisco rescinded the offer or not — we’ve seen it reported both ways — but regardless, the Internet won’t soon forget the CiscoFatty fiasco.

Lesson #1: Put best, perhaps, by Helen A.S. Popkin in her article on MSNBC: “Never post anything you wouldn’t say to your mom, boss and significant other.” (I’ve heard others use “grandma” in place of “mom.” I guess they are assuming grandma isn’t as hip or accepting as mom!)

Lesson #2: You may think what you say won’t get back to your boss because he/she doesn’t follow you. Think again! Viral is the name of the game online, and it doesn’t take much to stir up trouble!

And those are just two that turned high-profile. I’ve heard too many other similar tales from colleagues. Like the one about a person who went to a conference, represented herself as an employee of a company those she was there on her own and not a company rep, got drunk during an official conference event, and tweeted about it. She was fired.

Or the girl who updated her Facebook status to reflect her true feelings about her job and her boss. She, too, was fired.

My point? I’m willing to bet every one of these people thought they were “too smart” to fall victim to social media gone bad. Yet, they all did. And the fact they did so will live on — forever — thanks to the Internet.

So I think a few lessons bear repeating here:

  1. Always be aware of what you’re saying and think before your fingers start flying on the keyboard.
  2. Don’t assume your Facebook status updates won’t go beyond your friends. (Screen grabs are a great – and evil – thing.)
  3. Approach social media with this mantra in mind: Never post anything you wouldn’t say to your mom/grandmom, boss or significant other.

Actually, now that I think about it, these rules probably should apply to not only the social media realm, but also to any (in-person) networking situation as well.

Have your own tales of Social Media Gone Wrong? Share them below.

Robin Ferrier is the editor of What’s Next, Gen Y? and Communications Manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. She is also the President of the Capital Communicators Group; co-chair of the Marketing Committee for the Tech Council of Maryland; and Chair of the PR Committee for the Gaithersburg Book Festival. She has inadvertently become a frequent career / professional / job hunt resource for friends and colleagues due to a career path that has included five jobs in 12 years.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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