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When Employees Go Rogue on Twitter

As several Olympic athletes have demonstrated, what your team members do on their personal Twitter accounts can hurt you.
Swiss media report that Michel Morganella posted an offensive message about South Korean people after the Swiss team lost 2-1 to South Korea.
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Most of the headlines coming out of the Olympics are positive, highlighting the atheletes' breathtaking skill. Others, thanks to Twitter, are chillingly negative.

Because Twitter has turned every athlete into an online publisher, there have been several cases of Olympians demonstrating racism, outsized egos, and an astounding lack of judgment. Not only are the athletes damaged by what they say online, the countries and teams they represent suffer collateral damage.

Business owners can learn a great deal from this. Your reputation means everything. Using Twitter, employees now have the ability to damage a business's reputation on a global scale. Without strong policies in place and without a plan for crisis management ready, you could be setting yourself up for serious harm.

The Damaging Tweets

Here's a look at what three individual athletes chose to tweet and how their "bosses" responded.

Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou posted this offensive tweet just days before the start of the Olympics:

So many Africans in Greece at least West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food.

The post cost Papachristou her spot on the Olympic team. The Hellenic Olympic Committee acted decisively, immediately removing her from the team, saying Papachristou was "placed outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement."

By acting immediately, Greek officials did an excellent job distancing the rest of the Greek Olympic team from the controversy.

Following a 2-1 loss to South Korea, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella tweeted:

South Koreans "can go burn," calling them "a bunch of mongoloids."

Gian Gilli, the head of the Swiss Olympic delegation, kicked Morganella off the team and flew him home. Gilli said that under the Olympic Charter, which demands "mutual respect" among athletes, he had "no alternative" but to remove Morganella from the team.

U.S. women's soccer goalie Hope Solo set off some major fireworks when she went on a Twitter rampage against former U.S. star Brandi Chastain. In her capacity as a commentator for NBC Sports, Chastain had criticized the play of defender Rachel Buehler. Solo tweeted:

It's too bad we can't have commentators who better represent the team and know more about the game. Lay off commentating about defending and goalkeeping until you get more educated. The game has changed from a decade ago.

Solo's rant has proved to be a major distraction for the U.S. team. Solo was not disciplined for her comments, but coach Pia Sundhage says she had a long talk with Solo.

"We had a conversation," Sundhage told reporters. "If you look at the women's national team, what do you want [people] to see? What do you want them to hear?"

Just how damaging this tweet was to the women's team will not be known until the women's competition comes to an end. If the U.S. wins the gold, it will be an afterthought. Anything short of a gold medal, though, and the tweet will again take center stage.

The Lesson for Businesses

Most businesses pay very close attention to what messages go out over official company social media accounts. They put the accounts in trusted hands, and they set out clear social media policies. But when it comes to personal social media accounts, they are guilty of being far less diligent.

There's no such thing as an entirely personal social media account. So long as your employee can be traced back to your business, then tweets that could embarrass your brand must be avoided at all costs.

I'm not saying that personal accounts should be banned or overly moderated. There's nothing wrong with employees posting vacation photos, talking about favorite movies or restaurants, or telling the world they have fallen in love.

But they must understand that when they cross the line into business issues or make statements that will reflect badly on their employer, they will face significant consequences. No-nos include:

  • Giving away business secrets
  • Criticizing management or fellow employees
  • Criticizing company products or services
  • Making statements so outrageous or offensive as to shed a negative light on the company

These are the kinds of things that should get them fired. It's nothing personal.

Last updated: Aug 1, 2012

JON GELBERG | Columnist | Editorial Director, PR News

Jon Gelberg is the editorial director of PR News.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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