Big thanks to Heather Rast (@heatherrast) for sharing her real-life story of how social media involvement affected her corporate career. This is a very important topic that affects nearly all businesses today. In Heather’s case, you’ll see that her social media activity led to some significant problems with her former employer. You’ll also hear from Heather that she’d do it all over again, despite what happened to her.
When I heard about Heather’s situation, I was anxious to get this story out. We can all learn from this issue – as owners, employees and personal brandkeepers.Would love to get everyone’s thoughts on this. Thanks!
What types of social media/social are you involved in?
I’m actively involved in: my blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Delicious, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, and Flickr. I had active presences on each of these before the incident and remain active today at those sites.
Can you give us an overview of what happened, as it relates to your social media involvement?
I was employed by a software development company, and my role was director-level. My role included leading a team of ten Web interface designers and content strategists. My focus was entirely on the best ways to present and market our client brands on the Web.
After being involved in social media, I learned that my mindset toward it was not shared by all. Others may be more circumspect, calculating, methodical, and generally more reserved in their approach to growing and learning. By comparison, I prefer to do research, consult with experienced persons, and leverage my intuition to make first steps, closely evaluating results but persisting in moving ahead.
Our company did not have a freelance or social media policy. Because of my level of responsibility, I thought it within my purview to choose methods for generating interest among outside parties about what my team did, and what we had to offer. I used Twitter to share ideas like “Just had a great client meeting. I think they’re understanding what a SEM campaign can do for their short-term search goals.”
One of the persons who didn’t agree with my approach/style decided to selectively cull certain Tweets from my stream, and present them to executive management. They asserted that I was sharing confidential client information and using poor judgment. My personal Facebook account (the daily status updates) was also called into question, as was my blog in the topics I wrote about. But the impetus for the sudden focus on me, I believe, was primarily Twitter. Interestingly, I wasn’t the first person to use Twitter and refer to work-type topics.
The reality is, I never mentioned a client by name, and I never detailed any client project. But the suggestion by my accuser was that if a client found my Tweets and used the time stamp, they could deduce that I was talking about them.
In the end, my saving grace, I believe, was that my boss lacked the bandwidth to easily assume my duties. There were some additional punishments, and the sum total effect sufficiently caused a lot of reflection about earning a livelihood, while also being confused about what the company really thought I could and should offer.
What would be your advice to others in your situation?
Certainly, I learned the hard way that Tweets can be parsed, and meaning can be applied to my words without benefit of context. That those actions intentionally distort facts is immaterial. I find that very ironic—that some “well meaning steward of the company” can twist my words to suggest I’m a poor representative of the company.
To others that feel a compelling need to share, exchange ideas, and grow via Twitter, I’d say this: if you don’t own the company (and therefore don’t have autonomy), ask what the corporate social media policy is. If you find it flexible enough for your needs, then great—advise your boss in writing that you’re an active in blogs/social media and that you will adhere to rule 4.2 section A or whatever. Be up front and intentional about your after-hours involvement in communities.
If a policy doesn’t exist, go on record providing samples (IBM and Dell are readily available and often referenced [jp-here’s Edelman’s]) to Human Resources, and state that in absence of a policy, you will adhere to these best practice recommendations; when such time as the company develops their own you’ll be happy to comply.
Would you do it again, and why?
I’m no longer with the company, although I still believe in their product and believe a great many talented people work there. But my disappointment in their inability to channel my talents effectively for the good and growth of the company is tremendous. I had previously been heralded for my contributions. One dissenter was all it took to turn the heads of critical decision makers. I didn’t have a chance to have a rational discussion about the issue. But to be fair, maybe I should have seen trouble coming.
Several months have passed since this went down. Yes, I’d do it all again. Why? Because I’ve met some tremendous people on Twitter. People who share and encourage, people who help me grow. These groups expand my reach and make me feel part of something bigger. Long term, I’d be unhappy and dissatisfied abstaining from social media. And in the end, I believe the very pieces of me that are attractive to employers would be eroded if I didn’t Tweet, blog, or otherwise connect.
The beautiful ending to my story is that I’m now with a company who has full disclosure of my blogging and Twittering—they very much support my writing and sharing and frankly hope to leverage my connections for the benefit of the company—something I’m totally okay with because it’ll make me smarter and showcase skills that will ultimately add to my marketability as a MarCom professional.
Yes, in this economy it’s risky to fly right if everyone else is flying left. But it was the right (no pun) move for me, even if it was painful for awhile. I learned some lessons that will stay with me forever.
- Be very intentional about what I write anywhere. Have awareness about if the first and the fourth (example) sentences were stripped away, could my idea be misinterpreted, or used against me?
- Have a healthy respect for dissenters. Threatened people will resort to surprising behaviors. Take actions to preempt their plans by being as transparent as possible.
- You are replaceable, and your achievements are only as noteworthy as your weaknesses are few. Bad things can happen to good people.
- Isolate what is really important to your career/professional happiness. Then make sure you’re working at a place that truly allows you do those things. Life’s too short to just work somewhere; find that career that offers fulfillment.