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Business - Written by on Monday, March 23, 2009 8:47 - 1 Comment

Denis Hancock
To tweet or not to tweet at halftime – is it a canary in the corporate coal mine?

Editor’s Note: this is a re-post. You see the original at www.denisbhancock.com.

Many companies have been struggling with how to deal with employees using social media during “working hours”. In the National Basketball Association (NBA), the prime working hours are game time -when all of the athletes should be acutely focused on helping my fantasy basketball team win the task at hand. In turn, the recent controversies about certain players tweeting at halftime are rather interesting – could they turn out to be a canary in the coal mine for how companies should think about their own employees using things like Twitter?

The first major story that hit the press on this front was when Charlie Villanueva of the Milwaukee Bucks, Twitter ID CV31, decided to tweet during the half time of a game against the Celtics that was tied at 41. His message was as follows:

“In da locker room, snuck to post with my twitt. We’re playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.”

The inclusion of the word “snuck” indicates Charlie knew this might get him in trouble, but he did it anyway (side note: if you think something will get you in trouble, and that something involves sending a very public message, you are not a criminal mastermind to say the least). Thankfully, he didn’t reveal any information to damaging – “Coach wants us to run more pick and rolls to shift the defense and then isolate Ramon Sessions” would have been a real problem – but the team definitely perceived it as a problem. To quote coach Scott Skiles:

“We made a point to address Charlie and the team that it’s nothing we ever want to happen again. We don’t want to blow it out of proportion, but anything that gives the impression that we are not serious and focused at all times, is not the correct way we want to go about our business. It’s something we just want to distance ourselves from, that’s all.”

So that’s one way to react – but there are other options as well. Interestingly, but a few days later Shaq (The_Real_Shaq) also tweeted at halftime, though it was a bit of a joke (the message was “shhhhh”). But you’ll notice his coaches response was a little different:

“As long as he gets 25 [points] and 11 [rebounds], he can do whatever he wants. He can Twitter, Facebook, MySpace,” said Gentry, who also has a Twitter account.

Interesting contrast – and there would seem to be a lot of different dynamics at play here.

One is a difference in coaching styles – Skiles is known as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense kind of coach (with a playing style to match), while Gentry was brought in part way through the season to bring some life back to a Suns team that was for a long time synonymous with a more fun, and dare I say “open” style of play.

Another is a difference between the players based on performance. Shaq is a legend, based on both his performance on the court (one of the greatest players of all time), and his fun loving antics off of it. Charlie V is a good player, who has long been seen as having enormous, unfulfilled potential. One might argue that Shaq has earned the right to do what he pleases, while Charlie hasn’t. Others may argue that different rules for different players is a problem.

Another is how one might think about the “jobs” these players do – is it just to win games, or is it to entertain fans? While the two are connected, one might argue that tools like Twitter that enable players to make easy connections with fans could greatly increase the entertainment value. In fact, that is what Charlie was trying to do: Within the proper boundaries, Villanueva said he thought Twitter did allow him to stay in touch with Bucks fans.

I could probably come up with a couple more, but you get the idea. So take a second and think about it from a corporate context. Both coaches / organizations seem to have decided that any messaging outside of actual game time is generally OK – indicating that at minimum they think the value of connecting with fans could be of value, even when other “work” (like training, etc.) could be considered as more important – has your company made that leap? One coach has made halftime off limits (let’s call this the equivalent of the players “main jobs”), while one coach has said it’s basically OK – at least for this one particular player (what do you think about employees using social media as part of their “main job”? Should you make different rules for different employees? etc.).

And if you extend the question out beyond the situations I’ve mentioned here, what are the proper limits to place on what players (employees) can say? How do you strike the balance between the “official” message a team wants to send (say, through their own Twitter account), and the opinions and discussions individual players might present? And do insights into player’s personal lives which might naturally emerge on such platforms hurt or help the team (corporate) brand?

I think there’s lots of different questions here, and different teams are going to come up with different answers based on player personnel, organizational philosophies, coaching styles, etc. I also think that companies will be able to learn a lot from these very visible experiments…

1 Comment

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Mundo Resink
Mar 23, 2009 10:05

Great post, thanx!

As for a reaction, it strikes me first how Bucks coach Skiles uses the word ‘we’: ‘… not the correct way _we_ want to go about our business. (…) something _we_ just want to distance ourselves from’. ‘We’ apparently doesn’t include the players – or this whole shenanigan wouldn’t have happened.

So when you ask, ‘How do you strike the balance between the “official” message a team wants to send (say, through their own Twitter account), and the opinions and discussions individual players might present?’, I’d say: figure out first why those opinions and discussions are out of sync with your ‘official’ message. If your employees believe in what you do as an organization (if they’re aware of what your organization’s purpose is in the first place), I don’t think you’d have to venture here.

People will only truly follow you when they have the freedom not to. You want your people to represent you, so trust them to make their own decisions. And if you find yourself having to set limits, ask yourself why your employees feel the need to cross them.

As for social media during work time: if it makes people happier workplace bunnies, they’ll probably be all the more productive for it. Most likely,they’ll help you build your brand – if only because it demonstrates an open company culture (instead a stuffy one, regulated from the top floor).

And if they bitch & whine about your company – or just say things you don’t agree with, be grateful: you’ve finally found a way to evaluate yourself and your company.

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