The latest profession to be transformed by Twitter is... baseball? Yes, the world of professional baseball is now confronting the possibilities and potential pitfalls of Twitter, according to FoxNews Sports, which has an interesting article about the attempts of the White Sox to deal with both. Among other things, the article highlights the dilemmas of any business or organization in the age of social media, including whether and how they should regulate the social media presence of their employees.
It seems outspoken White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has an even more outspoken 24-year-old son, Oney, who worked with the team's video department and stirred controversy with tweets "insulting opponents, disrespecting upper management and using vulgar language in a public forum." After a mid-sized hubbub, Ozzie asked Oney to resign from his job to distance the team from his comments.
This is ironic, considering trash talk is standard on the diamond and baseball players seem compelled to stay stupid stuff - witness Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker ("The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners"), Chicago Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley ("you understand why they haven't won in 100 years here"), or Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter (on Afro-Latino players: "They're not us. They're impostors").
But, on the other hand there's no reason to encourage offensive or allow trash talk, especially if the big mouth isn't even on the team. It would probably have been easier for all involved if White Sox management had formulated a Twitter (and broader social media) policy from the get-go.
This just poses more questions, however, most of which are applicable to other organizations which employ individuals using social media. How far does management's authority actually extend? Specifically, when and how do you distinguish between the employee as a representative of the organization, and the employee as an individual?
In the case of Oney Guillen's Twittering, some guidelines would be obvious: no swearing, no insulting individuals, no talking about players' personal problems. But does this apply to all his tweets, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when he's not at work? Can he tweet his more "interesting" opinions if he creates another Twitter account under a false name? But then what happens if other people figure out that this other Twitter account is actually him? Is the team still "liable" (in the PR sense) for what he tweets?
All these same concerns apply to other businesses. Just take out Oney Guillen and substitute, say, a mid-level executive at an ad agency or media company, with strong, potentially offensive opinions about competitors, life, the universe, and everything. Are his employers justified in telling him not to tweet at all? Or issuing strict guidelines for what he can tweet? And are they allowed to police his tweeting from home, if they think it might somehow tarnish the company's reputation?