I spent four years working as an assignment editor for a local TV station. We covered a host of fatal accidents, homicides, house fires, etc. One of the first things we did when we got word of a fatality, whether the death was a tragic accident or the result of foul play, was hit Facebook and MySpace up to see if they had an account. If they were young, chances were they did. And chances were, it was an open account. That is, any member of the public could access it.
I can remember one instance in particular when we were covering a fatal accident involving a young person. As soon as we got the identification from the coroner I ran his name, and, sure enough, there was his profile page, his smiling face beaming eerily from the computer screen. Already his friends had gotten word of the tragedy and were posting memorial messages on his wall. It became standard practice for the media to show those photos and read these messages on the air.
When people stop to think that they might wake up one day to see the contents of their MySpace or Facebook pages as a topic for discussion on the morning news, many of them bristle. Isn’t that a little below the belt? After all, what business does the media have delving into people’s private lives?
This is the lesson all of us must learn: As long as your profile page is open to the public, IT IS NOT YOUR PRIVATE LIFE. When an agitated husband writes, “I hate my wife!” on his evening status update, it’s no different than purchasing ad space on a 250’ x 500’ digital sign in Times Square and announcing it to the world.
The media will investigate anything in the public record, and an open Facebook account IS public record. And it may not just be the media thumbing through your MySpace photos. Prospective employers, loan officers, ex-girlfriends, sexual predators, your boss, and Osama bin Laden could all be checking you out.
Like individuals, businesses can often be careless about their social media accounts. When setting up a MySpace or Facebook page, it is critical for marketers and public relations professionals to keep the following tips in mind:
- Keep business and pleasure separate on social media. A business owner who already has a personal account under his name should not use that same account for business purposes. Clients don’t want to hear you “shoot the breeze.” They want to see professionalism and expertise. Keep one account for fun, and the other for business.
- Double-check the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Facebook and MySpace give you the option of making your accounts public or private. It’s a no brainer that any high level executives with personal accounts should have them set to “private.” Business pages will likely be public.
- Be aware of potential exposure to litigation. Don’t post any content to your Facebook page without first determining whether you have the legal right to do so. Posting images of minors may pose a problem if you don’t have parent’s permission.
- Monitor your social media networks. One of the most dangerous things a business can do is open a social media account and then forget it is there. Entire conversations may have taken place and accusations may have been leveled against your company without your knowledge. Take an active, aggressive, and vigilant approach to the way you handle your account, and be quick to nip any problems in the bud before they explode into a PR nightmare.
- Don’t post anything to social media you wouldn’t say to Larry King. You have no idea who is accessing your account. Even if it’s closed to the public, one of your friends could save images from your page and e-mail them to others. Anything posted on a social media account should be run through the PR office first. You should also be aware that once it’s up, it’s permanent. You may take it down, but that doesn’t mean someone hasn’t already seen it, saved it,and distributed it to others.
TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is an independent copywriter and founder of WriteNow Creative Services, which does indeed have a Facebook account (feel free to join.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.