#29 – Social media shackles, RFID chips under the skin, and $1M awarded for defamation!

#29 – Social media shackles, RFID chips under the skin, and $1M awarded for defamation!

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Should you track or police your employees’ every move and tweet? We discuss this and more.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  We are back with another episode. We got some good stories this week and we’re going to kick it off with a story from the … well, about the Washington Post, I don’t think they wanted to report on it. But the Washington Post, who you think would be a cheerleader for free speech, has introduced a new social media policy that prohibits employees from posting anything online in social media that quote, “adversely affects the Post customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners.” That’s a pretty broad list, Erin.

Erin Jones:                  It is. It’s a big list, but you know I think with how much the lines of private and personal have become blurred on the internet, it’s really hard to do anything other than that.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. The thing that I’m concerned is, is that it’s restricting too much. I mean, when you restrict an employee with a policy from saying anything that adversely affects blah blah blah, then your employees are kind of like, “Well, I’m just not going to say anything at all,” and then they back away from even saying positive comments, because they’re just scared of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed, and I think if you over-sanitize your posting, it becomes very apparent and incredibly boring, so people are going to stop reading it if, you know, like you said, there’s a really fine line here. I’m not sure, especially with a media outlet, if you could say anything without offending someone.

Andy Beal:                  You’re so right. Well, you know, I think they’ve at least covered themselves with adversely affects. But again you could be right. I mean, you say something and then one of your vendors that provides the ink for your paper takes offense at it, because they don’t like your political stance in something you said, blah blah blah. Then all of a sudden, this falls right under the policy and you could get canned for this.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot of tightrope walking here, because the employer is kind of at their discretion. They could use just about anything if they want to offload someone. You know, I don’t know what the right call is here. I know as an employer it’s really scary to let your employees loose and hope that they do good and represent your company well, but I think you need to loosen the reins a little bit.

Andy Beal:                  I agree. Like, I think that’s a good way of putting it, right? Loosen the reins. It’s definitely go to your employees and say, “Look, guys. Here’s our big advertisers. Here’s who pays our bills. Here’s our biggest partners. We want you to be aware of this, because if you see something in the news that affects them, and you chime in on it, just think carefully about how that is going to affect them.” So if you go to them like, hey, grown-ups, and say, “Look, we appreciate that you tweet online and you post on Facebook, but we want you to know about who our biggest, customers, vendors, partners are, so that you can keep that in mind,” then I think that’s a better way of addressing it than saying, “We’ve got this policy.”

It actually goes further than what I read. I’ve not read the entire policy, but I’ve read the main points of it, and actually you’re not allowed to use social media while you’re at work, unless that is part of your job. So no pulling out your phone while you’re taking a five-minute break and posting. So there’s none of that allowed. Then it also encourages other employees to snitch on anybody that they know that’s violating this policy. So it’s really a strict policy where, like you said, loosen the reins. Just kind of give them a heads-up, and let people be grown-ups and be accountable for their actions.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed. I think that this is going to cause a lot more animosity and us-versus-them feelings than doing what they’re hoping is going to come out of this.

Andy Beal:                  Your employees are your reputation for the most part, and so if we now know that the Washington Post is sanitizing, as you said, sanitizing the social media output of their employees, it’s no longer an authentic voice. We can no longer look at what employees are saying and trust that that is their unbiased opinion of anything, and whether they’re on the clock or not, we’re now thinking to ourselves, “Eh, yeah, but you guys have been given direction on what you can say, so if you say something positive about a particular person or a vendor, we’re going to think to ourselves, ‘Well, you have to say that because you’re being forced to.'”

So they lose any kind of credibility for their employees, especially if an employee takes it upon themselves to kind of jump in and defend their boss or defend somebody. We’re no longer going to look at that and say, “Yeah, that’s somebody’s authentic voice.” We’re going to look at that and say, “Well, were you told to say that, or are you just not allowed to say what you really feel?”

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and I feel like it also takes away the human element of those employees. You know, there are local newscasters that I follow their feeds, and I kind of appreciate that off-work personality. I feel like I know who they are a little bit more than when I’m listening to them or reading their work later, when they’re working.

Andy Beal:                  You know, whenever ever I’ve spoken to employees about this kind of stuff, I’ve always had the philosophy of, “Look, use common sense, use your best judgment. If you screw up and do something that does hurt us, we’ll fix it, and then we’ll learn from it and perhaps not do it again.” I’d rather do that than have some kind of policy in place that makes everybody scared to say what they feel and do the right thing because they’re worried about violating it.

Erin Jones:                  Yes, it kind of is back in to turning people into cyborgs, you know? Like, “Here’s what you’re going to say, here’s what you’re going to do, we want you all to be the same, and go.”

Andy Beal:                  Speaking of cyborgs. We didn’t rehearse that, but that’s a great segue. Erin, why don’t you tell us about Three Square Market? Because if you guys listening, if you thought social media policy was kind of crazy, wait till you get a load of this.

Erin Jones:                  Okay. So Three Square Market is a company in Wisconsin that … they do a lot of tech work, and sounds like they have a lot of subsidiary companies that work with them. They have recently allowed their employees to be microchipped. I think the microchip is supposed to be an RFID that only works one-way. It lets them into the building, it lets them charge things to their employee accounts in the stores on-site and things like that. Supposedly, they’re saying that it only works one-way. It sends out data but doesn’t take any data in, and it only works in close proximity when something is requesting its information. I don’t know about you, Andy, but I find this incredibly unsettling.

Andy Beal:                  Now, it’s a good idea if had they have a lot of employees that break through the fence without their collar on and get picked up by the local dogcatcher. I think it’s a great idea if that’s what they’re facing, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

Erin Jones:                  No.

Andy Beal:                  One thing to point out is this is voluntary, so they don’t have to do it. It’s designed to help them to swipe in and out of work easier without pulling out a card or something like that. But you’re working with a very new technology here that is barely approved for this kind of use, and so many things could go wrong. Just off the top of my head, is it medically safe? What if I get an infection? What if it starts moving? What if it turns into cancerous cells and starts attacking my body? What if hackers figure out how to get into it and now start tracking me? There’s so many things that I think could go wrong here, and I wonder is it really a problem that needs this solution? I mean, how hard is it really just to take a key card and swipe it?

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and then I saw one employee in one of the … you know, bunch of articles I read about this, said he was actually having a ring created, and they’re going to stick the chip inside of a ring so he can take it off at his discretion. I’d feel more comfortable with that. Even if this company has great intentions, what about the next company or the company after that? There’s just so many dangerous applications. I know I’ve mentioned before that my husband is a network engineer, so the tinfoil hat level is high for us with this kind of thing, but I feel like the amount of data that they can get from this is amazing, but the potential for being overly invasive and dangerous is far greater to me.

Andy Beal:                  Then I worry about the cost that’s going to be involved to make sure that there’s the correct information out in the public. So you’re saving time here, maybe saving money, making things more efficient. But when the general public hears about RFID chips, they think of tracking, they think of Big Brother, and so how much are you going to actually have to spend to educate the public that this is voluntary, that this is safe, that this is going to be something that can’t be tracked? All of these things.

You’re now creating an environment where misinformation could grow, could hurt your reputation, and so you’re going to have to answer all these questions. I just wonder if they’ve considered that when you implement something like this, there’s going to be a lot of people that are not going to be reading the entire article. They’re just going to see the name of the company, they’re going to see the title that says, “Employers are embedding trackable chips,” and they’re just going to have a negative sentiment towards that brand that could have been completely avoided.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and like you said, even if they have the purest intentions, what about their perceived reputation here? Now they sound very machine-oriented and almost scary. I know someone asked what would happen when someone left, and they said, “Oh, they can just leave the chip in or they can have it removed.” They’re being so nonchalant about this and a lot of people are really freaked out about it. So I feel like there needs to be a PR campaign along with this.

Andy Beal:                  I can just see someone saying, “Okay, I’d like the chip removed,” and the response is, “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.” If you don’t get that reference then I’ve shown my age and let’s move on quickly. Okay, so last story. Andrea Polito is a wedding photographer, and she was accused by a couple of clients of withholding wedding photos. That they had hired her to take these photos, and then they went to social media and whipped up this frenzy of support because the photographer was not giving them their wedding photos, they were holding them hostage, blah blah blah, and got so much support in the media.

However, as we often see when we look at stories like this, there’s often two sides to the story. Well, if you’ve ever been married, you probably know that the common practice is you pay whatever fee for the photographer. But then you pay for each individual image that you want. You don’t get all 4,000 photos that the photographer spent. She or he has factored in that you are going to pay for each individual photo. So that was the case with the Moldovans here. They knew that, they signed the contract for that, but they didn’t like it and they felt like, “Well, this shouldn’t be the case.”

So we’ve got a situation here, Erin, where I think we’re kind of crossing the line. We’ve gotten used to using social media to get what we deserve, and we kind of publicly shame companies and individuals that have not done what they said they would do. But are we starting to use social media now to get what we don’t deserve, but we want anyway?

Erin Jones:                  I think there are two things at play here. First of all is that … you know, what you just said, the couple thinking, “Oh, we can make a bunch of noise and she’ll give us whatever we want to go away, because we’ve had that happen before.” The other thing I’m concerned about here is it feels like really irresponsible journalism. These news outlets just ran with this without even finding out what was going on. So it’s kind of a case of like you said they caught the media first and they made the most noise, so everybody got on the bandwagon with it.

It just makes me think of … I know I say this a lot, but petulant children stomping their feet. You know, “Well I … 70 photos seemed like a lot when I signed the contract, but then it was like Sophie’s Choice having to choose between them.” Okay, are we getting a little dramatic here? Is this really Sophie’s Choice, or can you fork over the money and pay for the additional photos that you want?

Andy Beal:                  You make an interesting point that I hadn’t considered. You know, 20 years ago, a journalist that thought they had a scandalous story would spend days, if not weeks, fact-checking, doing interviews, because they wanted to be buttoned up, because if they’re going to run with this, they want to make sure that there’s no retraction that has to be printed. But you’re absolutely right, now it’s a race to the finish line, and when you get a scandalous story the pressure is on you.

Whether you put it on yourself or whether it’s your employer, you know, your Washington Posts of the world, the pressure is on you to break that story and get those page views, get those retweets, and if there’s any other information that comes out later, eh, you know what, we’ll just update it or put a little … yeah, mostly just a little update in the footer. So I think you’re right. Social media is really … well, we’ve all seen it. I think mainstream media denies it, but we are seeing the CNNs, the Washington Posts of the world, just running with a story that previously they would have better researched.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, where is the integrity here? I feel like a lot of this could have been shut down really quickly if someone had made a phone call and looked at the contract.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Well … yeah, and I think that she … if I remember reading correctly, she kind of told the journalist, especially in the original story, that that was the case, but I think they kind of just glossed over it in favor of all the frothiness of the married couple’s side of the story. It really does go to show, if you’re being defamed, you need to get your side of the story out quickly. There’s a gun manufacturer right now, SIG Sauer, that is having some quality issues, and they’ve basically been quiet about it for a week. The message boards and the owners have just gone crazy about all the speculation and rumors that if you drop this particular handgun it’s just going to go bang, and it’s not supposed to.

They took forever to get their side of the story out. In the meantime, a lot of the damage has been done. So back to this photographer, I think she was outgunned, though, right? Because I think one of them had a job in social media and knew what she was doing. There was even a court record that showed that she said, “We are hoping that our story makes the news and completely ruins her business.” So she was probably outgunned. But it just goes to show the importance of when you’re being defamed, you need to get on this quickly and get your side of the story out there are quickly as possible.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, this whole this just is awful. The text messages going back and forth, that they were going to ruin her. I love social media and this just … it makes me so sad when people do things like this, because I feel like it’s just feeding the opinion that journalism isn’t noble anymore and social media is just a bunch of people whining and crying all over the place, and … thanks a lot, Bridezilla, you just dumped a little bit more fuel on that fire. I am glad to see that the jury ruled in favor of the couple. I don’t know what will happen if they contest things, but at least the photographer did get to say her piece. I read something that she felt like she was vindicated and that she can hold her head high walking through her kid’s school again. This didn’t just affect her professionally, people thought she was a fraud.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I mean you can’t … don’t exaggerate. If you’ve got a gripe against somebody, don’t exaggerate. Don’t curate the facts. Just let the facts speak for themselves. When you exaggerate, when you manipulate the truth, it’s eventually going to be revealed, and if it turns into defamation, yeah, you’re going to have a million dollars coming your way. So just because you can manipulate social media, that’s not always going to be good for your reputation. Now the Moldovans are going to be the ones that are going to have a tarnished reputation, and who’s ever going to want to do business with them again?

Erin Jones:                  Exactly. You know, that whole with great power comes great responsibility line, it absolutely applies to throwing your weight around to get things that you want. This whole thing, I just feel like it’s tacky. I don’t know how else to say that. But I’m curious to see how this lifestyle blogger’s lifestyle blog goes now that people know that she’s being a brat.

Andy Beal:                  Right. Yeah, probably not the lifestyle that a lot of us want to aspire to. All right, well that’s our show for this week. We appreciate you guys tuning in. If you see a story that you would like us to talk about, or you have a question that you’d like us to answer that’s related to reputation management, head on over to the Facebook page, which is /andybealorm, or head to andybeal.com, find any of the podcast posts, leave a comment there. We’d be happy to look into any story you see or answer any question you may have. Erin, always a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for joining me again this week.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you. It’s always a pleasure to be here.

Andy Beal:                  And thank you all for listening. We hope you’ll join us again next time. Bye bye.

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.