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This article was published on January 19, 2011

Trouble on Twitter: How to manage your employees

Trouble on Twitter: How to manage your employees

Last week, Liverpool fc player Ryan Babel got into all sorts of bother for an inappropriate tweet. He wasn’t too happy about a penalty given against Liverpool for Manchester United in their FA Cup tie and sent a tweet which pictured the referee in a Manchester United jersey. He wrote “And they call him one of the best referees? That’s a joke”

He later apologized but not before the incident was all over the media and before the FA announced they would be charging him for the matter.

He’s not the first footballer to lose the rag on Twitter. Darren Bent had a go at his Chairman because his transfer out of the club was taking too long. Glen Johnson, another Liverpool player, wasn’t happy about pundit Paul Merson questioning his attitude. Johnson lashed back on Twitter, referring to Merson’s addiction to alcohol, cocaine and gambling in the 1990s. ”Comments from alcoholic drug-abusers are not really gonna upset me …” he wrote. ”The only reason he’s on that show is coz he gambled all his money away. The clown!”

The problem is, footballers are celebrities but they are also employees of clubs too.

Employees Tweeting

It raises a general question about how to deal with the issue of employees tweeting. Traditionally, company announcements were strictly controlled and only issued via marketing or pr departments after serious scrutiny and analysis.

We also are used to having the news controlled and delivered at 9pm every night in a formatted way with the news company deciding which stories we will see. This has all changed now with the community based Internet where the crowd is in control.

We now get our news 24 hours a day from multiple channels and increasingly the crowd is deciding what stories will be shared. It is the same with the impact of social media messages from employees. The control companies once had on announcements is being eroded. We’ve seen employees get fired over tweets, get fired by tweet and not get jobs because of tweets they’ve sent.

Some companies have responded by not allowing employees to tweet at all. Others have tried to restrict Twitter access to a defined group of people who are effectively ‘official spokespeople’ for the company. Finally, some companies such as Zappos and Best Buy allow and encourage many employees to tweet. Zappos now have over 500 employees who are tweeting away.

What is critical here though is that Zappos put a lot of time, money and effort into staff training and into developing their company culture. The big decision is not ‘should we let our employees tweet’ but instead: how do we create the right employee environment such that involving them in tweeting or blogging will have a positive impact on the business.

What you must do

If you do decide to get employees actively involved in communicating via social media make sure you have a clear policy in place for it’s use, make sure you train them thoroughly in how to use and communicate through the medium, support them with tools and information and make sure you reward them for good work done as well as monitoring them to make sure they aren’t doing a bad job!