A credit union receptionist blogged today about her "pet peeves" at work. I'm not going to link the blog or go into detail about what was written. Not that what was written was all that bad. In fact, many of her mentioned frustrations are quite commonplace - shared by plenty of frontline personnel across the entire universe of service organizations.
I'm not going to go into detail because it doesn't matter...it's not the point. These rants take place all the time. Most of the time, however, they take place privately...amongst a group of friends, to a trusted colleague, or with family members. In this case, it took place on a public blog.
In the world of Google Alerts and Twitter, this was a very, very bad call. Dozens of people found this post first thing in the morning, and the link was quickly tweeted to hundreds of credit union folks. This was a bad reflection on the author's employer, on credit unions in general, and on the author herself. That said, I have reason to believe that it was an honest, albeit naive, mistake.
The point of this post is not to rub salt in her wounds. She took the post down as quickly as she realized her misjudgment (thanks to a phone call from Jeffry Pilcher), wrote a public apology, and hopefully nipped any potential damage to her employer and her career in the bud. Rather, I'd like to discuss the points that this situation brought to light.
1. Nothing on the Internet is private. I've heard this explained in several ways, but my favorite analogy equates posting something on the internet to putting up a billboard on a busy stretch of interstate. If you value your job, don't post negative things about your position on your blog. It's kind of like putting up a billboard that says "ABC Credit Union, along with its members, suck." Not a cool career move. The same thing goes for pictures of you doing keg stands at a frat party, taking bong hits with Michael Phelps, or putting boogers in Domino's pizzas. If you don't want the world to see that stuff, don't put it on the Internet. If you don't care, expect to deal with the consequences.
2. Word travels fast. It takes only a few clicks for thousands, even millions, of people to see what you have written. This can be a very good thing...or a very bad thing. Just because your blog doesn't typically have a huge audience, doesn't mean something you write won't end up on millions of computer screens. Fame is often cool, infamy usually isn't.
3. Credit unions need to decide if we are a cooperative of cooperatives, or an industry of competitors. I've argued for years that if the credit union movement doesn't start holding its member credit unions to consistent and higher standards, we will never be able to create a meaningful national brand. This means calling out other credit unions that have strayed from our founding philosophies, and doing what we can to control our public message. I was criticized today for encouraging the writer to rethink her post. I also saw the critics of her post be compared to an "angry mob". This mindset is unfortunate. To me, credit union employees have a responsibility not only to our employers, but to the movement as a whole. When a credit union rips people off or asks for TARP money, it's a black eye for the movement. When a credit union employee publicly complains about his/her job and members, it's a misleading public account of the entire system. Whether I'm in the minority on this stance or not, I feel like it's my duty to call people out on these misrepresentations.
If we're an industry of competitors, then I totally see the other side. In that case it's much easier to let the writer get fired, her members get ticked, and her credit union become weaker for it. I prefer to believe that our overall health depends on each and every credit union in the system. If we can help one another, we should.
The comments written on the post in question were pointed, but respectful. Had she kept the post as published, these comments would have given the counterpoint to her message. Credit unions are great places to work, and we work every day to serve our members in the best ways we possibly can. Thankfully, she removed the post, presumably saved her job, and gave us an excellent credit union social media case study from which to learn.
Social media rules aren't concrete...they're still being written, and will no doubt be re-written ad nauseam. Some truths, however, remain constant - no matter what the communications vehicle may be: some things are best left unsaid, think before you speak/write/blow smoke signals, and never discount an audience's passion for or against your opinion. While we all have the freedom to write or say anything we wish, we are also free to deal with the associated consequences - positive or negative.