Australia: Protecting your business from social media

It's always risky business to engage in social commentary about political matters or trending topics for the obvious reason that it can turn really bad, really quickly. That's the exact lesson American journalist, David Leavitt, learnt recently when he tried to leverage off the horrific Manchester bombing. Within minutes of the attack, Leavitt had attempted to 'entertain' his audience with the below tweet:

Rightfully so, the Twittersphere erupted with rage and sent Leavitt's account into meltdown.

But unfortunately, the gags didn't stop there – the journalist continued to dig his hole deeper by poking fun at Ariana Grande herself.

Receiving over 40,000 replies to his series of tweets following the incident, Leavitt continued to spiral downwards as he questioned if his joke could have been better timed.

After being inundated with condemnatory tweets, Levitt apologised and explained to followers that his conduct was just consistent with his Twitter habits regarding trending topics.

So what can companies learn from Leavitt's #socialmediafail?

  1. Humour and irony are not always appropriate. At Coleman Greig, we are absolute fans of embedding humour and personality into social media posts and tweets. However, there is definitely a time and place for humour and being "witty" about death or tragedy is never appropriate.
  2. If you are going to comment on current events and in particular tragedies, try and make it positive! In light of the devastating attack, humanity shone through with businesses and locals taking to social media to offer their offices and homes as safe spaces for injured and frazzled concert goers. The hashtag #RoomForManchester gained traction and saw local businesses offering taxi rides and hotel rooms free of charge to help those injured or stranded.
  3. Go slow and steady. Avoid the temptation to comment immediately on trending topics, especially in respect of tragic events. You should have a good understanding of the topic you are commenting on to ensure your comments are both accurate and appropriate. Who could forget Donald Trump's famous #socialmediafail in respect of Brexit?
  4. Stop and apologise. If your post or tweet causes offence, post a simple, honest and unqualified apology. Don't add fuel to the fire by posting more offensive comments such as "Too Soon" or arguing why it was really ok and that others just lack a sense of humour.
  5. The online conduct of David Leavitt has also lead us to consider the actions available to companies when an employee, contractor, ambassador or agent goes rogue on social media.

  6. Make a statement. In the event that an agent of your business or someone affiliated to your brand has a #socialmediafail, it is critical to respond with a public statement dissociating your brand from the views of the individual (see below). With the majority of information literally available at our fingertips, the digital age makes it very easy for online audiences to associate your brand with the offending content.
  7. Ensure that your business has a social media policy. Almost everyone has a social media account of some sort, and in fact, many employers encourage the use of social media by their employees, as a marketing tool. However, as an employer, you should ensure that you have a clear social media policy which sets out what is acceptable social media use and what is not. The policy should also make it clear that employees can be disciplined for improper use of social media, if the views expressed through the social media account can be seen to be affiliated with the employer. The policy should allow the extent of the discipline (ranging from a warning to termination) to be decided at the absolute discretion of the company, on a case-by-case basis.
  8. Recently, Jenna Price, a columnist for The Canberra Times and Daily Life, wrote an article on what she did when she received an email from a troll – sent from an email account that showed that he was writing from one of the banks that Jenna banked with. She called the bank and asked to speak firstly to the employee who wrote the nasty email, and secondly, asked to speak to his supervisor. She received a written apology from the bank and no doubt the employee in question found his trolling a career-limiting move.
  9. As a company, having a social media policy in place will enable you to take appropriate action when an employee does misbehave on social media. Without such a policy, employers are left to rely on the firm's policy in relation to disciplinary procedures, which may not be as clear or specific in dealing with social media misconduct, as a social media policy would be.
  10. Consider extending the policy to ambassadors, agents and contractors. Leavitt is a freelance journalist and was not an employee of WBZ Boston News, Yahoo, the Examiner, or presumably, any other news outlet which he has written for before. However, a Google search of Leavitt quickly associated those brands with him, and therefore, his tweets.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Lisa Qiu
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Norton Rose Fulbright Australia
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