There have been numerous warnings for the past couple of years about the dangers of social media. We have all heard that your social media footprint is permanent and you have no idea where your postings will end up. We have seen the ramifications of some public postings gone wrong; be it in the world of the arts, business, sport and even young children at school. But for some strange reason, we just have not learnt.
Over the weekend, the Cronulla Sharks playmaker and former Australian and New South Wales representative Todd Carney had his employment contract with the club torn up after he posted (or someone else posted – yet to be proven) a photograph of himself committing what has been described as a “lewd act”. For me “lewd” lets him off very lightly. Ridiculous, strange and just outright sick are other terms that I feel better describe the photo. However, it was decided that this photo was in the public interest and needed to be shared with his 40,000+ Twitter followers and it soon went viral. What followed was hardly a shock; Todd lost his job.
Now, I can hear protests from people saying that his social media profile is his personal business. I can hear people saying that he is free to express himself on his personal pages. I heard a vigorous defence from rugby league legend Andrew Johns yesterday when he said that Carney should not be sacked because he didn’t hurt anyone else, only himself. However, the Cronulla Sharks and the NRL saw it differently and I tend to agree with them.
You see, Carney has “earned” his 40,000 followers because of the game and the brand it represents. Without being an NRL star, it would be hard to see that poor old Todd would be able to scrape together 400 followers, let along 40,000. It makes him quite powerful as he has a continuous connection with a large number of people and this makes him influential. You see, it does have the potential to hurt others because, rightly or wrongly, he is a role model and he does represent his club and the game. He has let both down.
This morning, on the radio, I heard an employment lawyer interviewed about the matter. He was on a panel with a civil libertarian and the radio host and they were discussing this matter. The lawyer raised some very good points which I feel are important for both employer and employee to consider with regards to social media. They included:
- Employment contracts should now include a clause about acceptable behaviour. If you are in a role whereby you have a position of influence, you should be governed by acceptable behaviour standards as your behaviour could reflect on the business of organisation you represent.
- Education is the key. Employees and employers alike need to be informed about the dangers of social media as well as the benefits. This education should be ongoing as it is easy to forget or lapse into bad behaviours.
- Your personal profile becomes public very easily. Re-tweets and shares ensure that this happens. As such, any behaviours posted publicly can easily find their way into a courtroom and need to be treated seriously.
- Most social media lapses occur when alcohol or emotion is involved. Don’t drink and tweet/post. Don’t tweet/post when you are emotional and irrational. It is dangerous as well as silly.
- If you are in a position of influence (yes, this area is the grey one and up for debate in every business) think long and hard about what you post. Think about the possible ramifications because they are real.
The most interesting point that had consensus with the civil rights expert and the lawyer was that we need more education as to how to better use these social media tools. They are powerful methods of communication and can do a great deal of good for employers and employees alike. The assist you with building a brand and this is essential for everyone moving forward in work. They have a reach far beyond nearly any other form of traditional media. However, they can be so dangerous when you don’t think before you post.
So, as an employer, this interview following the Todd Carney saga has led me to re-visit my own employment contracts and ensure they protect the brand. As an employee, they make me think about my own footprint and closely look at what my name is attached to. Finally, as a fan of the NRL, I just shake my head. Why Todd? Why? It has cost you $750,000 per year as a base contract alone but so much more in brand damage. I hope it was worth it.
Brad McMahon – Managing Director