When do your employees stop becoming representatives of your company and start becoming private citizens? When are they officially off the clock? When they walk out the door at the end of the work day, are they private citizens who are no longer held to the same standards of behavior? When they get home, are they no longer considered to be on the job?
The process of establishing the answers to those questions is becoming murkier by the moment in this emerging age of social media.
Case in point: Nick Barnett. While rehabilitating from a nasty knee injury and operation this year, the Green Bay Packers linebacker became a Twitter sensation, attracting more than 17,000 followers.
Most of his "Tweets" were innocuous references to the tedium of everyday life, such as what he was having for dinner or what he was watching on television. He ended many of them with the phrase LOL (laugh out loud).
Then came the second game of the season, a disappointing Packer loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Barnett did not have a good game. After he finally made a tackle late in the second half, he celebrated with some sort of childish Samurai sword dance.
His Twitter followers immediately mocked him. Shortly after the game, Barnett retaliated with the following Tweets:
- "Oh yea for everyone that had something to say after I celebrated for making a takle for lost KISS MY (expletive deleted) …"
- "I was trying to get defense fired up… And so what if I missed the takle before am I suppose to stay in a funk about it!?? Get a life."
A few hours later, Barnett apologized for letting his emotions get the best of him. By the next morning, he announced that he will no longer Tweet this season. He wrote an extended Tweet (unedited): "Hey everyone.. I done somethinking and I have decided to stay off Twitter unroll next offseason.. I am a emotional person and sometimes With this Twitter thing I forget that everything is public.. Sometimes I feel I am talking to my freinds and just talk.. So I am going To pull myself away from that.. Thanks to all the people who supported me thru my rehab and tough times and for the haters well god loves u."
At what point did Nick Barnett stop becoming a Green Bay Packer and start becoming a private citizen with his own identity in the world? Should the Packers have held him accountable for how he treated … their customers?
What about your company? If your people go home, and they write something offensive on Twitter, or Facebook or LinkedIn, will they be held accountable by your company? Should they be?
I don’t have all of the answers to those questions, even though BizTimes Media is on the cutting edge of this social media revolution. Thanks to reporters Alysha Schertz and Eric Decker and managing editor Andrew Weiland, we are way out in front of most media outlets.
Like many of you, we’re not sure where this all goes, but we want to be along for the ride.
I have told our people that I do not have the time nor the inclination to police every single entry they post on social media sites. However, I also told them I will reserve the right to hold them accountable. So, they should write with the presumption that I may see their content.
In many ways, that’s regretful. But the reality is that in a sense, none of us is ever really off the clock anymore. Because of advancements in technology, the line of distinction between our professional and personal lives has been blurred. We use our cell phones and laptops to make dental appointments for our children one moment and communicate with a business client or a co-worker the next.
So, I guess we all best be careful when we LOL.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.