How not to handle a heated Facebook discussion

A story about the firing of a TV meteorologist who defended herself against a racist, insensitive Facebook remark about her hair style left me shaking my head over the lack of thinking by her former employers.

A story by Lylah M. Alphonse on Yahoo! Shine reported on the firing of Rhonda A. Lee by KTBS in Shreveport, La. It seems Lee made the mistake of defending herself against an ignorant attack. Click here to read the story.

On Oct. 1, Alphonse says a viewer posted on the station’s Facebook page: “the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. the onlt [sic] thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair . im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv.”

The Facebook user who made the comments later apologized.

Alphonse’s story shows Lee’s measured response. It seems, however, her former employer thought she was violating their unwritten social media policy. That’s right, Lee was fired for multiple violations of an unwritten policy, Alphonse reports. (Lee had previously defended herself from another online attack). The only formalization of the social media policy is a mention in an email  memo sent to station employees, Alphonse reports; the policy reportedly was first introduced during a meeting that Lee did not attend, Alphonse reports.

An online petition has been started to help Lee regain her job.

A statement by the National Association of Black Journalists says, “We encourage media companies to protect employees on official social media platforms that are used to engage news consumers. We urge managers to be more sensitive to social media comments and attacks on their employees. Many companies employ social media editors or utilize electronic systems to quickly discard offensive comments, but not all organizations do.” You can read the statement here.

It’s extremely important for a company taking disciplinary action, especially termination, to have well-documented policies and procedures. The company not only clarify duties, responsibilities and rights for employees, but such documentation helps protect the company from potential litigation. I don’t believe an emailed memo is sufficient.

And let me state a personal opinion: a person has a right to defend herself, especially if the attack is malicious and personal.

And like so many employers, the managers at KTBS do not understand how to effectively employ social media. Social media is highly interactive, with dialogue flowing from both sides: users from around the world, and company management and personnel. Traditional media like TV stations and newspapers are one-sided exchanges: information flows from the media source to the user. Some media professionals have trouble adapting to the concept that social media involves ongoing dialogue between both sides; to them, social media is one more thing to check off the list of trying to reach out to people who may not consume your traditional product (newspaper edition or TV news broadcast).

Lee handled the attack against her in a professional way, and I hope she regains her job.


Skeptical of Facebook IPO: Opinion

Was Facebook’s IPO overvalued? Yes. Although a technical glitch marred the opening this past Friday, Facebook’s shares plummeted throughout the day from a high of about $45 to close at $38.23, just 23 cents per share higher than the starting price.

I agree with analyst Bill Smead of Smead Capital Management, who said in this story that Facebook and its underwriters priced the stock at the top range of its potential.

“The underwriters got greedy on behalf of selling shareholders and bumped the price high enough that they didn’t get much of a bump on the first day,” Smead said.

Although Facebook is a large company and has a ton of users, how much growth potential does it have? There are simply some people who will never sign up for Facebook’s status updates and games.

Nor is advertising revenue a given for providing a steady stream of income, with GM’s announcement it was “unfriending” Facebook.

Facebook may yet prove it can avoid the fate of past would-be-giants like AOL and MySpace. But until then, betting your stock investments on Facebook will be risky business.

2012 predictions: Tech vacations and slower Facebook growth

Mashable has made seven predictions for social media in 2012. While predictions can be about as accurate as throwing darts or drawing straws, one of Mashable’s predictions is a safe bet. The list of predictions is here.

I agree that Facebook’s explosive growth in terms of new members will flatten in 2012, but the amount each user spends on the site will grow. Just about everyone except my parents has joined Facebook (and I don’t see my parents joining anytime soon).

Now I’m going to ignore what I just said about predictions being hard to make and issue one of my own: People will start to take time off from the digital and virtual realms in 2012. I’ve started to see stories being published urging people to turn off their digital devices for a while or to log off of social media sites like Facebook. Mashable reports that the Caribbean nation St. Vincent and the Grenadines is challenging visitors to leave their gadgets at home as part of a “digital-detox vacation package.” Participants of the low-tech vacation will receive a guidebook telling how to function on a vacation without technology.

I think many people are getting worn out from the constant barrage of social media and texting that’s made possible from smart phones they have with them even when they’re not in front of a computer screen. That’s in addition to mobile phones making it impossible for many employees to leave work at the office.

Ericsson ConsumerLab recently released results from a survey of 2,000 American teens ages 13 to 17. The results showed teens still prefer meeting face-to-face versus texting and checking statuses on Facebook. Teens said they would miss face-to-face communication the most if it were taken away. Texting came second.

While I believe that more people will take time off from Facebook and other digital distractions this year, I will not be one of them. I am one of the statistics who relies on mobile phones, emails, Facebook and more to stay in touch with relatives and friends, and to earn a living (not to mention maintaining my blogs). If you take a digital vacation, I hope you will check out my blog once you return!

Observations on brands in social media

I have only a few minutes to talk about this interesting read on social media and branding on Fast Company, so here are some observations:

Dunkin’ Donuts: People trust other real people and connect with them more than they do to talking animals or celebrities. And unless you’re trying to set up your brand as the Rolex of your industry (the superior product differentiation strategy), it may not make sense to say how superior your product is – show people, don’t tell them.

Clinique: I agree with the observation on Clinique’s “how-to” videos being more socially relevant than Axe’s frat-house humor. There’s a good reason “how-to” books are consistently big sellers: Consumers are looking for useful information on “how to” do many things. Take a look at your product or service and ask yourself what sort of “how-to” tutorial you can offer to build value to your audience.

Gimmicks: There may be a time and a place for gimmicks, but they just are not effective in the long-term. Find creative ways to play up the unique features of your product – fresh, never-frozen burger patties are a great selling point for a burger chain because of the taste and quality factors (ask Five Guys Burgers and Fries execs why their burgers outperformed McDonald’s and other, larger chains in a recent survey).

Finally, the article makes a good point. Social networking isn’t for everyone (Gillette’s campaign on shaving the “nether region” sends chills down my spine). Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

E-mail marketing is so passe’

If you’re not conducting your marketing campaign via a social network site, you’re behind the times, report Nielsen and Direct Marketing.

The full report is here.

The time that consumers are using e-mail while online has dropped 28 percent, Nielsen says. It’s now the third most popular online activity, behind social networking and gaming.

An Advertising Age report also cites a Nielsen study on Facebook ads. The study looked at 14 brands and found an increase in ad recall and purchase intent when homepage ads mentioned users’ friends who became fans of the brand in the ad. The impact was even larger when the “like” showed up in a user’s news feed, in a method called organic social advocacy.

The impact on awareness and recall is even more pronounced when a home-page ad coincides with what Facebook and Nielsen term “organic” social advocacy, i.e. an item in a user’s news feed indicating a friend has become a fan of a brand.

Does this mean your company needs to rush out and create a Facebook page? No. A social network campaign should be as well planned as any other marketing campaign. Do your homework and decide on your goal, audience, and other factors. And then plant your flag on the social network sites.

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