President Obama thought his comments about Kanye West were off the record when he called the singer a "jackass." They came during an interview with CNBC. The remark was overheard by people at ABC who then tweeted about it. So just what is fair game for tweeting while you are at work?
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/16/lewis.regina.art.jpg caption="Regina Lewis says it's important for employees to know their company's social networking policy."]
Regina Lewis is AOL’s consumer adviser and author of "Wired in a Week." She spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
John Roberts: Let's just illuminate for folks at home what the tweet was that sort of launched a thousand conversations. It said, “Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a 'jackass' for his outburst at the VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT'S presidential.” ABC News says it was wrong for that tweet to go out. So I guess the caution here is be careful what you tweet these days?
Regina Lewis: Yeah. They are saying the threshold should be the same as if it was published on ABC.com, which has raised all kinds of questions within the journalism community. But it extends beyond that to everybody else at work. And that's got a lot of companies scrambling to update their business code of conduct and create things called acceptable use policies around social networking, which tweets would fall under.
Roberts: The "Wall Street Journal" says business and pleasure should not be mixed. Folks at IBM are telling their employees to stay away from controversial topics. It is a new twist of business that they have to have social networking policies.
Lewis: Absolutely. And it can happen very quickly. You certainly want to know your company's policy. Generally speaking there are two kinds of Twitter accounts or social networking profiles: Company-sponsored, and those are usually run by the marketing department or the PR folks, versus an individual account. And this is where the lines blur because most people have things that they are talking about that are personal and professional.
The second that you post – even if it is just in your information area – that you work at x-company, odds are now your company is going to say "okay, so all of this is fair game because you are representing us." That's why the IBMs of the world encourage people to write in first person so that it is clear that it is your point of view and not the company's. And if needed, and maybe ask this, should I put a disclaimer that says anything I post here doesn't necessarily reflect the views of my company.
Roberts: Sports in particular have some unique challenges and unique issues to tackle. U.S. Tennis Association warned athletes during the U.S. Open not to tweet about matches, court conditions, injury status, etc., saying that could constitute illegal gambling.
Lewis: Yeah. Every industry has their own nuances. So take a public company for example. Are there forward looking thoughts that could spark insider trading? Are there patents? Is it proprietary information? And this kind of goes back to the president's off-the-cuff remarks, which are considered off the record.
What if I happened to see a bunch of guys in suits in the lobby and started to tweet that "wow, they looked happy, I smell a merger"? That's the kind of comments just based on what you see. You have to play it out in your head. Be careful what you wish for. And of course on the most effective tweets, the ones just like the Kanye West words out of the president's mouth are the ones that are controversial and spread very quickly. ABC pulled that tweet down, but was too late. It was already out there.
Roberts: So obviously it’s a challenge for companies always to stay ahead of the new technology. This is exploding as well. Might there come a day when they either have to monitor people's use of Twitter and Facebook or maybe restrict it? And what about people who do tweet or use Facebook during working hours? What should they keep in mind?
Lewis: Well, you should keep in mind if the company owns the computer, they may have rules about "hey, on work time, that's out of bounds. It’s our computer and we are paying you." So watch that. But keep in mind, people are doing this on their cell phones as well. Everybody has a personal cell phone. So where do you draw the line? Also, most companies don't want to forgo the potential upsides. Some of your most engaged employees are commenting on industry blogs. They like that. That reflects positively on the company. So they just need checks and balances in place so you get the upside without the potential downside.