In a world where an offhand comment by a CEO like Mark Zuckerberg can send his company’s stock price either soaring or tumbling within minutes, it’s more important than ever to watch what you say. The stock market may now be controlled to the millisecond by computers that use algorithmic models to buy and sell, but it’s still incredibly vulnerable to human influence. When Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke opens his mouth, the market responds.
Thanks in part to social media outlets like Twitter and Zuckerberg’s Facebook, the same rules apply for individual companies — and not just big ones that are on the stock market. If you’ve been cultivating a Twitter or Facebook following for your small business, this relationship should be treated with the same care and respect with which you would address an audience of investors in your company.
Although you want to keep your social media posts relevant and lively, sparking conversation in the process, you also don’t want to ostracize any potential customer base.
Imagine if a small business owner’s tweets were as public as those of an NFL player. Unfortunately, despite their public stage, a handful of these guys have learned in recent years that clicking ‘Tweet’ can cost them big money by turning off ‘investors’ in their team and personal brand.
To learn what steps a small business owner should take to insure that their tweets pass the ‘investor test,’ let’s look a few examples of ‘what not to do’:
- Proofread Your Tweets.
- Set Rules for Employee Tweeting
- Think Before You Tweet.
- Consider Your Audience
Although abbreviations are certainly acceptable on Twitter, spelling errors, poor grammar and incorrect punctuation are not. You’re a business owner — you should convey strength, poise and intelligence. That’s hardly what San Diego Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie did when he complained about the food served at his team’s training camp:
Man we have to have the most nasty food of any team. Damn can we upgrade 4 str8 years the same ish maybe that’s y we can’t we the SB we need.
Although the first sentence makes clear that Cromartie’s gripe was about the team’s food, the structure of and spelling contained in the second sentence completely distracts from his intended meaning (whatever that might have been). Don’t leave your company’s followers trying to guess what you mean through a confusing array of improper English.
If you have employees that you trust to represent your business responsibly, it can be a great idea to give them access to the company Twitter account. They are often the ones with their ‘feet on the ground,’ and it’s a win-win to let the people working for you help to promote.
Within employees’ personal accounts, however, it’s important to set clear rules about the company. For example, a restaurant employee disgruntled about being asked to work an extra shift on late notice should realize that it’s not okay to express their angry feelings about their manager publicly on the internet.
Some fans and commentators criticized Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans for not practicing with his teammates and demanding more money during contract negotiations with his team. In response, he tweeted:
Can these fake Titan fans STFU on my timeline I don’t have a regular job so don’t compare me to you and I can care less if u think I’m greedy. If you was a real fan my tweet would not bother you it only make the fake fans upset.
While it’s acceptable to approach social networking on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites more casually than one might approach professional communications at work, businesspeople should take note that our online activity is there for the whole world to see. Not only did Johnson utilize poor grammar throughout his tweet, he ostracized a huge portion of his company’s (the Titans) fans.
We’ve all been there – clicked "send" on the email or left the heated voicemail before giving the implications of the communication enough thought. Rashard Mendenhall apparently didn’t give much thought to the consequences of his tweet, as the NFL player ignited a firestorm after posting this message:
Anyone with knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that these two parallel each other.
Perhaps if Mendenhall had taken some time to consider the difference between the plight of Africans enslaved by Americans prior to the Civil War and the elaborate lifestyles enjoyed by many pro athletes who earn hefty salaries, he would have hesitated before he published that statement.
The takeaway for folks in the business world? Think before you speak. Think before you make that phone call. Think before you send that email. And definitely think before you tweet. Despite the fact that it only takes a fraction of a second to click "Tweet," the information we post online sticks around for a long time and can haunt us for months or years to come. In the business world, reputation is everything. Therefore, refrain from carelessly posting information online that might tarnish your good name.
Although sharing an off-color joke, a complaint about a colleague, or a controversial opinion might be acceptable in certain contexts, Twitter is not an appropriate forum for disclosing such information. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that, although we may be alone in an empty office as we type away, information posted online can reach a global audience.
In the business world, maintaining a professional image is imperative. Everything we tweet can impact that image, both positively and negatively.