With my ear pressed against the back of their seat I overheard everything.
This man and woman, with heads close together, started discussing their department, the staff and the issues therein. In the next 40 minutes I had a very clear picture of what was going on at a Melbourne financial services company, who was pulling their weight, where the department was losing money, who was – ahem – enjoying intimate relations with whom. All the fun stuff.
I fleetingly thought of blogging the whole sorry story. After all, if I was more thoroughly entertained by my eavesdropping than the conversation with my friend at the table, then so would my readers.
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But there is a social contract. And that social contract says that news you overhear in the toilets at the club, the gossip being discussed at the booth next to you in a cafe and the confidential information left on a table at a restaurant is a no-go area. Unless it’s the latest Apple iPhone, in which case, quick! Grab it – there’s a buck to be made!
We are not journalists. We are human beings that have to live side by side with other human beings.
So before you even start monitoring discussions on social media, make up your mind what is appropriate use of the intel. If someone tweets they are having a cup of tea and a biscuit, will Arnotts jump on them and suggest a Tim Tam? Perhaps the Heart Foundation will recommend an apple instead – and Coles will simply offer a two-for-one deal if you buy either.
It’s enough to make the customer run screaming to coffee and a cigarette!
More importantly, if a friend of a friend publishes a Facebook status update that they have just lost their father to cancer, will a funeral home jump on their discussion and promote cut-price coffins? No? Really? It’s already happened to me.
When Westpac social media staff tweeted “Oh So Very Over It today” the response was overwhelming. Sarcasm, in the form of “You’re a bank. You made a $1.6 billion first-quarter profit. Cheer up”, mingled with “at last – a bank that experiences existential angst” humanised the bank.
The power of invisibility
Monitoring these sorts of discussions is less important than what I call the Invisible Audience.
The bank knows what they tweeted and will deal with the fall-out. But what about staff off the corporate account, on a personal social media site, who want to “pimp slap” customers (Vodafone)? Should you monitor staff or should you just put guidelines in place about acceptable behaviour and let them go? Or is monitoring staff part of your crisis communication disaster proactive plan? The biggest threat to branding in social media is almost certainly “home goals” by staff saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time in front of a vast and active audience – terrifying.
The Invisible Audience is the equivalent of my big old ears pricking when I hear gossip in a public place. When a communications student was finished with an interview, she tweeted to her very small handful of followers on Twitter: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”
Monitoring meant that Cisco had a permanent search set-up for the word “Cisco” and don’t have to have already followed her on Twitter to receive that tweet. She didn’t proceed with the job. The Invisible Audience claimed another scalp.
Australians make a lot of assumptions about social media and the biggest, greatest, most humongous one is that their comment will be lost in the noise. After all, if you only have 150 friends on Facebook and a few hundred followers on Twitter why not tweet about wanting to pimp slap your Vodafone customers? No one will know except your friends… that staff member is now suspended.
So is the vendor that complained about how hard it was to work with a major exhibition events organiser, on Twitter, without realising that the organiser had a monitoring panel with all vendors, staff, speakers and delegates’ social media accounts open. Oops.
We can hear you loud and clear
Culturally, though, informing staff that they are now going to be monitored during their private time and in discussions that they perceive to be at home or in confidence may be a tough undertaking.
Again, while staff know that high usage of porn sites during working hours will get them sacked, they still assume that the IT department is really too, too busy to check every little thing they do online unless they get flagged – in which case it was either bad luck or they deserved it.
But monitoring changes everything. And the professional voice from 9 to 5 now has to become 24/7. That’s a big ask of staff.
In the follow up articles we’ll look at monitoring brands and keywords, identifying key influencers and repercussions, tools and tips to save time and reduce resources in social media monitoring.
But in the meantime I want to know: with your Personal hat on, will you trade privacy for a job? And with your Professional hat on, will you monitor a handful of people having a private discussion on Twitter and what will you do with the information? Ethics and values go hand in hand with social and community behaviour. Where will we find you?
Laurel Papworth has been named in the global Top 50 social media influencers by Forbes magazine, and Marketing magazine named her “Head of Industry, Social Media”. You can follow Laurel on Twitter here, visit her blog, or contact her through her business, The Community Crew.