With social networks, we're all instant publishers of information. If you say something about your employer over Facebook or Twitter, you should be prepared to own up to the consequences. But companies would be rash to start punishing employees for every bit of unflattering information they post to the Web.
This ongoing philosophical question about how to address employee behavior and information-sharing on social networks resurfaced today with news that a part-time employee for the Philadelphia Eagles named Dan Leone found himself out of a job after he lamented the team's failure to sign seven-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, who opted to play for the Denver Broncos. On his Facebook status message, Leone said: "Dan is [expletive] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver. . .Dam Eagles R Retarted!!"
He quickly realized the possible consequences of the post and deleted it, but as this Philadelphia Inquirer column detailed, it was too late.
Other poor publishing decisions on social networks have been widely circulated.
An executive from a PR agency (ironic profession considering this example) serving FedEx caught sharp criticism after he let his feelings known about the shipping company's hometown of Memphis, when he posted to his Twitter account, "True confession but I'm in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say 'I would die if I had to live here!'"
Both these incidents reveal that companies need to have more realistic expectations about the freedom their employees have (and should have) to publish their thoughts on social networks. Both employees in this case could have leveled the same criticisms with more mild diction (maybe "I don't think the Eagles got this right" instead of "retarded"; or "this city isn't really for me" instead of "I would die.")
The early concerns about social networks revolved around the hiring process rather than employees, since many organizations made the knee-jerk decision to ban social networks at first. With great regularity, we've seen examples of HR departments trolling social networks to vet (or eliminate) candidates from the hiring competition. My colleague, Meridith Levinson, wrote a great post about how this practice is markedly unfair and unrealistic.
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