Learning from Murdoch's Twitter perils

Rupert Murdoch's engagement with Twitter shows business is starting to understand its value, but the media mogul has also fallen victim to some risks inherent in the medium.

A small step in the evolution of social media happened over the new year weekend when Rupert Murdoch joined Twitter and almost immediately, and predictably, his tweets attracted criticism.

While there’s still a nagging doubt as to whether the @rupertmurdoch account is real, despite the assurances of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, the step may indicate a turning point for how the mainstream media use social media.

This is encouraging for the social media community as it shows that businesses are beginning understand the value in online networks. But it also illustrates the risks for both businesses and employees when these tools aren't properly understood in the workplace.

Here are a few lessons other new business users can draw from Rupert’s experience.

It’s about community

The first word in social media is 'social', these online services are a society and just restricting your circle to a select few isn’t go to give you a great deal of benefit.

Rupert Murdoch’s account is a good example of how many people restrict themselves; at the time of writing he’s following five users. If it really is Rupert Murdoch behind the account, he’s missing some good and relevant stuff.

If the person behind the account is really a new user, then they are probably wondering what all the fuss is about as two of the five accounts they are following haven’t been updated in months.

Shut up and listen

One of the unfortunate things about social media is how everybody assumes their voice has to be heard. It’s a mistake we all make when we first join theses services.

Like social contexts, it’s best to be quiet when you first join until you’ve figured out the protocols, manners and dynamics of the group.

Just stumbling in and blasting your opinions out, as media moguls sometimes have the tendency to do, doesn’t usually work well whether we’re at the pub, mothers’ group, updating Facebook or posting on Twitter. The key is to understand why you are there.

What’s your objective?

Have you come to listen to customers, learn from industry leaders, spruik a product, find a job, catch up with the folks or be one of the online hipsters?

All of these and any other zillion objectives are perfectly valid reasons for joining a social media service. So listening and posting in ways that help your objectives makes sense, as does following the right people.

The whole point of using social media services – be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the other hundreds of online networking platforms – is to listen, learn and talk with your peers and the leaders of the areas you’re interested in. Perhaps you’ll even be considered a leader, as Rupert Murdoch certainly is.

Starting by listening and understanding how a social media service works and where it adds value for you will make using the site a far better investment of your time.

The employer's risks

As social media sites are one of ways businesses communicate with the public, managers have to understand these services are an asset too important to be left to the intern or youngest staff member in the office.

Should that intern move on – possibly at the next college semester – the business may find they are locked out of the account or it is even deleted.

Business pages and accounts should be set up in the name of senior people in the organisation and, where possible, administration should be shared by the relevant unit in the organisation (customer support, marketing or whatever).

The nominal owner and administrators should understand that the account is the property of the business and all posts on it will be work related and not personal.

When one of the administrators or owners leave the organisation, login details should be handed over and passwords need to be changed. Where possible, the ownership should be changed to another employee – this is one of the current problems with Google accounts.

Employers need to understand that the professional contacts individuals make during the course of their work isn't their property, so trying to claim the personal LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers of an employee's private account probably will not be successful.

Similarly, social media services like LinkedIn are not Customer Relationship Management programs and using them that way, as a company called Edcomm did, will almost certainly end up with problems and a possible dispute.

Traps for employees

When given a work social media account to maintain, it's best for a staff member to consider it as being like the work email address – best used for business related purposes only and surrendered when leaving the organisation.

If the staff member is being held out as a representative of the business, as in the Phonedog_Noah dispute over a business Twitter account, then it's best to not to use the business account after leaving the organisation.

On sites like LinkedIn and Facebook staff should change their employment status on leaving the organisation. Any messages on the change in employment should be professional and not abusive of the company.

Staff using social media have to be aware they can be held accountable in the workplace for things they do on their personal online accounts; sexual harassment, abusing customers and workplace bullying through a Facebook or Twitter account can all result in disciplinary action.

In many ways the disputes we're seeing on social media services reflect what we've seen in many other fields over the years – the ownership of intellectual property, professional contacts and even access to websites have all been thoroughly covered by the courts over the years and there's little in these disagreements that would surprise a good lawyer.

Rupert Murdoch is probably not going to need a lawyer but he is on the personal learning curve of what works for him on Twitter.

Like most of us, he'll find that doing more listening and less talking on various social media services is where the real power lies for business executives and entrepreneurs.

Paul Wallbank is a business technology writer, broadcaster and blogger and author ofeBusiness: Seven Steps to Online Success.