Getting Social Media Right

A few days ago, there was a great bit of a dust up in NYC about firefighters and EMS folks being profiled by the NY Post for a terrible reason: taking and posting images and descriptions of people involved in scenes online. The wonderful Dave Statter wisely noted that this situation had the potential to blow up into the national media. I agree, this is exactly the type of situation that will cause agencies, organizations and companies to get very, very scared.

I didn’t think I could add anything to what’s already out there on the subject, until I looked at what’s going to happen next. And as terrible as what those folks did was, it’s the reaction is what could be really bad.

What could be possibly be worse than posting gruesome and demeaning photos? How about overreacting and banning social media.

Let me be crystal clear about this, the men that posted those images should be disciplined. But this is not a problem with social media, it is a problem with those men. And brass and politicians, in an effort to “do something ” about the problem, may very likely confuse the two and set their agency back by years.

It may be too late for this case, but in your case, hopefully it’s not too late. (And yes, this or something very similar can happen in your agency, organization or company; and if you can’t think of something, you give your staff too much credit.) So, what should you be doing right now, before the Post comes calling?

First, you need to review your social media policy (and if you don’t have one, check out and get creative. What dumb thing can put your agency on the front page? Make sure that’s reflected in the policy.

Next, and this is the most important step, is to train people on the new policy. And not in the sense of, “don’t be a moron on social media,” but instead teach them how to use social media correctly, positively. How they can act as an ambassador for your agency to the world. Because that’s what they are, your very best spokespeople, and they are completely underutilized.

The final step is supremely important, and can only happen once the first two steps are taken care of completely. You stand behind your staff. If your policy is good enough, and the training was positive and adequate, your people should be among the best in the world, and deserving of your protection from the brass and politicians when they come looking for scalps. And if you can’t honestly defend them knowing they’ve gotten the very best training, is that their fault?


5 thoughts on “Getting Social Media Right”

  1. Thanks Jim. Putting the word “wisely” in a sentence with “Dave Statter” is somewhat of an oxymoron. But the thought is appreciated.

    We can look at this as a “social media” problem, but as painful as it is, in a sense SM did a good job of alerting everyone to what is potentially a bigger problem that the organization is having with certain personnel. If everything the NY Post has reported is true (and some people keep writing me anonymously saying the Post has it all wrong), SM is the least of the worries here.

    Balancing the role of public safety with employees personal use of SM has provided a lot of growing pains. In my presentations, while I encourage smart, reponsible policies that acknowledge the realities of communicating today, I make the case it’s just as important for leadership to explain what they expect and provide some good training about the ethics and potential legalities involved.

    Just as many managers of emergency services have to get a better undertanding of how the world now communicates, many raised with the notion that their life and its every move are an open book via Facebook and Twitter will find they have to modify that thinking if they work in fire, EMS and police.

    1. Dave:

      I couldn’t agree more (not about the oxymoron part, though). This is absolutely NOT a social media problem. Social media gets added into the equation when those in charge assume that it’s a social media problem and start clamping down on things (which I think will have long-term, far-reaching negative consequences).

      You also make a great point about folks who are used to sharing everything have to learn how to dial it back a bit. That’s not a point I made, but definitely should have. This is a two-way street, and everyone’s got skin in the game. It’s in all of our best interests to ensure that we do this right.

      Thanks again!

  2. Great post! I often get emails about the employee who was fired at such and such organization for posting something or the organization that was sued for an employee blogging about something or other. All with a boogey-man flare to them and all demonstrating draconian responses to the issue – shutting down accounts, moving to push-out messaging only, 9 million levels of approvals, etc.. Your view reminds orgs to take a more realistic and supportive approach to prevention and mitigation of mistakes. Cheers!

    1. Thanks so much, Nicole. My real goal is to get our bosses to realize that we can help them–if only they understand that social media is a real part of everyone’s lives. You don’t want your employee’s to screw up and you don’t want to fire them? Then give them the means and tools with which to succeed.

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