A Social Media Mix-Up!

Posted on October 8, 2012 by

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Last week, home appliance brand Kitchen Aid featured all over the US news and social media networks…but to their horror for all the wrong reasons.

During the US Presidential debate last Wednesday, an insensitive message regarding Barack Obama’s grandmother appeared on the brand’s official US twitter account…before being swiftly deleted.

An official apology was made just minutes later, followed by a further message from KitchenAid’s senior director as well as a direct apology to the US President. However, with the original message tweeted to over 24000 followers, combined with many re-tweets, the damage was already done.

So how had such a message appeared on the brand’s account in the first place?

What actually happened, it later emerged, was that a member of KitchenAid’s staff had accidentally posted the tweet using the brand’s account rather than their own personal account… as a social media user both at work and in my personal time, I can see how easily it must have happened.

At work, sometimes we’ll tweet when we’re out and about and so we use an app for mobile devices. When I get home, if I turn to Twitter, 99% of the time it will be using the same app on my mobile or iPad. This means that at any one time, I am always signed in to three accounts: @uplimited, @cushydoos and my own personal username. The transition between accounts is near seamless.

Useful? Incredibly. But evidently, as KitchenAid has shown, a bit on the risky side too. 

There’s no way around it – the very nature of social media means that, in order for it to work best, it needs to come from humans. And that leaves it open to human error.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t tweet from my personal account (yes, I’m just a lurker) which means the risk of posting something personal on a corporate account is slim. But, were I more of an online chatterbox, then I’d definitely be looking into other ways to protect from any slip-ups. A different app for work and personal accounts perhaps? Religiously signing out of the corporate accounts at 5pm?

But that leads us to another issue; what happens employees finish for the day? Does that mean that anything they say on a personal account is completely separate to their professional life?

Companies can hope that their employees continue to act with the same professional decorum outside of the office as they do within working hours but what happens when an employee says something controversial or offensive?

Had the KitchenAid employee remembered to switch accounts and post from their personal handle, would there still have been an issue?

Probably.

If that personal account identified them in some way as a KitchenAid employee (for example in their Twitter bio or Facebook profile) then they could still be seen to be doing as much damage.

Although most people would assume that a personal account is exactly that – personal – a growing number of users who mention their employer name in their bio (or perhaps use the same username for both personal and work use) have taken to using disclaimers to protect themselves: 

These thoughts and opinions are my own, and not that of my employer.”

As social media for corporate use continues to spread, companies really should be introducing specific social media policies/usage guidelines/principles. Employers should ensure that staff know where they stand when it comes to using social media – both for work purposes and what’s expected when they are off the clock.

(We’ve said it before and we’ll a say it again – writing policies is not everyone’s cup of tea and it can be particularly bothersome if you don’t have the resources or expertise to hand. That’s why it’s a popular service of ours to have our HR experts write, review and implement tailor-made policies for companies.)

So what are your social media views? Disclaimered or otherwise – we’d love to hear from you!