Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) is currently embroiled in a controversy after a lewd photo was sent from his official Twitter account to another woman not his wife. Amidst mounting pressure and growing evidence, he admitted that he engaged in “several inappropriate ” electronic relationships on social network site such as Facebook and Twitter.
He initially claimed that his account was hacked and that he did not post the photo on Twitter. As more photos start to surface and the women he was engaged in “inappropriate relationships” started to come out, he finally admitted in a teary press conference that it was indeed him who mistakenly posted the photo on Twitter.
Social media is an important tool for businesses today, from getting close to your customers to learning about the marketplace to knowing what others are doing. For politicians like Congressman Weiner, Twitter is a tool to dialogue and reach out to their constituents and voters. However, as the scandal with Congressman Weiner shows, there are risks to using social media. One wrong post can wreak havoc on your business (and personal life).
Here are some lessons that the scandal involving Congressman Weiner can teach us on how to use social media:
1. Protect the security of your account.
Congressman Weiner first attributed the explicit post to a hacker, which unfortunately proved to be a false claim.
Nonetheless, the whole scenario highlights the risk that your social media accounts can be compromised. Hackers may get access to your account and then start posting content that is damaging to you personally and to your business. It is important to be aware of who has your passwords and make sure that they are clear as to what posts are acceptable. Also, you also need to change your password regularly to help protect your account.
2. Be careful of the content you post.
One single tweet turned the life of Congressman Weiner upside down. From a hotshot politician with bright prospects ahead, he is now reduced to a punch line requiring a massive overhaul of image (not to mention the effect of this scandal on his marriage).
Just like Congressman Weiner, remember that things posted on social network can have a way of coming back to haunt you – some in the worst possible way. Before you post something, think first: Is this something that you really want associated with your business or your brand? Hold off your emotions if you feel like cursing at a customer that sent you an irate tweet. Be careful that your posts do not border into libelous and malicious territories, lest you get sued. Think twice before you hit “send.”
3. Be mindful of how you post, and to whom you share your posts.
Congressman Weiner was supposed to send the picture privately through the direct message mechanism in Twitter. Too bad for him, he mistakenly sent the photo to all his followers.
Mistakes do happen. A message intended for one party may be sent to another, or worse, to everyone. Be extra careful of how you post your content. You may inadvertently broadcast to all your followers a message intended for a specific user. It is highly likely that you are not thinking or distracted when you hit the “send” button.
4. Nothing is really private on the Web.
After the first picture sent to a Seattle student surfaced, more pictures came out, further damaging Congressman Weiner’s reputation. Then more women emerged describing their online dalliances with the Congressman.
Social media has complicated what we thought about privacy. If you make use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to publish materials relating to your business or personal life, remember that you are doing so in a public domain.
It is also important to remember that your audience is much bigger than your followers. Your posts could be searchable and visible in the search engines, making them accessible even those who do not use these social media sites. Your tweets could also be passed along (or retweeted) by one person to the next. Like what happened to Congressman Weiner, someone could do a screenshot of your tweet, and post the offending tweet that you have already deleted on their website. A blogger can also link and point to your tweet. You do not have control where and how your postings will be used.
5. There’s really no distinction between personal and business accounts.
A problem that Congressman Weiner will be facing down the road is the possible investigation of whether he used official resources for his personal dalliances. In fact, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has formally requested the ethics committee to investigate whether the New York congressman violated House rules by using “official resources” to maintain illicit online relationships. He tweeted something very personal and inappropriate from his official Twitter account, possibly using government resources.
While your online transgressions may not warrant a Congressional investigation, be careful of the tweets that you send out — even if you have separate business and personal accounts. When you tweet something from your personal account, that tweet can impact peoples’ perception of your business as well. This is especially true for more established businesses that have built a certain brand and an image to protect, as well as relatively high profile business owners.
Disclaimers that your views on Twitter are personal and have nothing to do with your business don’t really work. That drunken photo you posted in your personal account may impact the opinion of investors thinking of funding your business. Your credibility as a business owner could be severely compromised.
6. When things go wrong, face the consequences.
When the first picture surfaced, Rep. Weiner lied and claimed that his Twitter account was hacked.
A cover-up is worse than the crime. If you make a mistake on social media, remove the content and own up to it. Apologize and take responsibility.
Of course, the biggest lesson of all from the Congressman Weiner scandal: never send compromising (and worse, nude) pictures of you to anyone online.