Want To Know What Two Words Keep Social Media Lawyers Up At Night (And Can Get Your CFO Fired)?

I am the Informal Tone beast. You will fear me.

Now that I have handed you the perfect opportunity to make your own clever joke about social media, lawyers, and social media lawyers, let me let you all off the hook by telling you exactly what those two words are:

Informal Tone

One of the reasons why I consider social media to be a revolution rather than a feature or fad is that it spills over into so many different areas.  Sure, most the regulatory and legal issues (potential or actual) we see are around social media marketing or public relations mistakes. That’s where companies interact the most with their customers: Go Daddy shooting an elephant, Gilbert Gottfried making jokes about his employer’s largest customer base’s national disaster, Kenneth Cole acting like a tool.  But we’re seeing more interaction with social media in other areas as well, such as employment (we all remembers Passwordgate 2012), courtroom evidence, and many others.

At the heart of all of these incidents is someone acting like an idiot.  They acted like an idiot for one of two reasons:

  1. They are an idiot.
  2. They let their guard down.
There’s no cure for the first cause, but the second one is what we commonly refer to as the Informal Tone of social media.  Go onto any platform and you’ll see it in action.  Social media is about interacting and having conversations, so people interact and have conversations.  Conversations tend to be the opposite of presentations, which are more formal and guarded.
So even when professional business people are on professional business sites like LinkedIn, they may let the dreaded Informal Tone take over and start posting confidential information to their status updates.  Or an engineer may be talking among fellow engineers and then publicly posts a rant about how he views his employer, Google.  Or a Congressional representative may just be fooling around on Twitter and then decide to send some explicit photos.  Okay, that last one may be cause #1.
But the Informal Tone problem is a real and serious issue.  Social media is informal, at least by typical business standards.  Switch the context of a conversation and people’s guards can come crashing down.  That can be disastrous for a corporation.
If a reporter from the Wall Street Journal were to call the CFO of a publicly traded company and say “I know that you aren’t reporting your financial results yet but you have a meeting with your Board soon so can you tell me what you’ll say to them?” the CFO may not even get to finish saying “No!” before hanging up the phone.  Yet the CFO of Francesca provided that exact information when he sent out this tweet:

Confidential info. Public Tweet=Fired CFO.

That tweet can still be seen, by the way (at least when I wrote this).  That CFO can’t be seen because he’s been terminated.  The company said he was fired for his social media posts, which many articles concluded were due to his public Facebook page since it included some questionable statements (like comparing some office workers to girls in Robert Palmer videos).  But the tweets are far more damaging.
The Informal Tone beast took down a publicly traded company’s CFO.  Think about that.  You probably don’t know too many free-spirited CFOs.  They tend to be a bit more conservative, a bit more reserved.  But here was one who was sending out confidential information, if not in detail than in summary, on Twitter.
How many of your employees or co-workers would never answer a particular question about their job if someone called them on the phone, but would happily post the answer as a response to a Facebook post or tweet?
You cannot slay the Informal Tone beast, but you can try to force him into a cage.  Have you done enough to fight the beast?  Something to ponder your next sleepless night (that I just caused…bwah ha ha!).



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Filed under Employment, Informal Tone, Social Marketing, Social Media Lawyers, Social Media Policies, Social Media Risks, Social Platforms, Twitter

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