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.


Stop #SOPA and #PIPA

Two bills before Congress, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and trample the First Amendment. These bills would impose harmful regulations on American business and would block legitimate uses of the Internet. It’s yet again another power grab by the government against individual liberty.

The Senate will begin voting on January 24th.

Wikipedia has removed its content for a 24-hour period today in protest of censorship. If you try to conduct a search on the site, you’re taken to a page where you can search for your Congress representative by ZIP code.

A number of websites have either blacked themselves out today or have posted other commentary concerning SOPA and PIPA. A number of sites provide petitions to urge Congress members to vote down these bills, including:

Here’s a good story about the issue by the New York Times.

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.

A day of teaching classes in Olomouc, Czech Republic

Our group helped teach two university classes today at Univerzita Palackého in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Dr. Adina Scruggs has been teaching at the university all week and has introduced the students to the SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). SWOT is used to analyze business strengths and weaknesses.

My group, including Josh Rule, Benton Jones and Julian Bennett, led groups of four to five students in analyzing businesses using SWOT. Czech universities normally only lecture to students and do not engage them in interactive learning, so Adina has been working to overcome that cultural barrier, which the students seemed to appreciate. They loved learning about American culture, from discussing music to how our university and colleges operate. Then, some of the students led us on a tour of their town, which dates to the 10th century.

Now, we’re back in Brno preparing to leave to Prague in a few hours–another early morning and lots of commuting.

Mum’s the word

The rise of social networking has led to an explosion of people sharing details from what they had for dinner to grievances at work to spats with lovers.

I cringe when I read some of the postings from my social networking contacts. I have mixed feelings about social networking sites — they are a necessary tool for someone in the news, marketing and other publicity industries because so many people use them. It’s like an arms race to keep up with what the competition is doing online. But I’m a reserved person by nature, and sharing details of my life goes against my inclination.

Sharing certain information on the Internet is not only unsafe but bad professionally. You’re upset over some issue at work? I understand how you feel. I’ve faced my share of frustrating situations at work. But I would urge you to think twice before sharing that information. It’s unprofessional to air your workplace grievances to those outside the company. You can harm both your current job and your ability to find a job in the future. Businesses scan such sites to learn what people are saying about them and to study people who apply for a job. Perhaps restricting who can view your profile will help against a basic search, but what about the people already on your friend list? They can and possibly will talk to other people. It’s like keeping a secret — once you tell one person, it’s no longer a secret.

Venting can be good for a person’s emotional health. If you’re unable to share your frustrations with a friend, I urge you to write your thoughts in a journal (the old-fashion way, in a book) or in a private blog that you allow no one else to view, not even your close friends.

Social networking is a good tool for business promotion and keeping up with the general happenings in your friends’ and relatives’ lives. There are plenty of personal observations that a person can safely share with others. But some issues should be kept to a private discussion with a select group of confidants. Doing this shows you have good emotional intelligence.

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