• 12/27/2012
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Zuckerberg Photo Flap: 4 Lessons

What Randi Zuckerberg's 'private' Facebook photo -- and subsequent Twitter fuming -- can teach the rest of us about social business.
The BrainYard's 7 Social Business Leaders Of 2012
The BrainYard's 7 Social Business Leaders Of 2012
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Nothing quite says the holidays like quarreling over a private family Facebook photo made public on Twitter.

Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a former company executive, posted a recent family photo -- which included her brother -- which she presumed to be private. The photo was then tweeted by Callie Schweitzer to more than 40,000 followers (then shared countless times, no doubt) after it first appeared in her Facebook newsfeed. According to the AP recap of the social spat, Zuckerberg tweeted to Schweitzer that reposting the photo was "way uncool." That tweet has since been deleted.

The dustup follows recent changes to Facebook's privacy controls, along with a digital uproar over updates to Facebook-owned Instagram's terms of service.

Randi Zuckerberg later returned to Twitter to offer a plea for "digital etiquette: always ask permission before posting a friend's photo publicly. It's not about privacy settings, it's about human decency." While the Twitterati debate the nuances of privacy, etiquette, and human decency, let's look at four lessons learned for conducting social business.

[ Which rules of etiquette would you like more users to follow on social media? Here are a few suggestions: Social: It's A Matter Of Manners. ]

1. Privacy on social networks is a myth.

Online privacy is a nice idea, but to expect it fully on social networks is a setup for disappointment -- or worse. If you want to play it safe, assume everything you post to social sites is public, even if your privacy settings dictate otherwise. The fine print on Facebook and other networks changes regularly, and this trend will no doubt continue as these sites seek ways to make money from a product they're largely giving away for free.

As for Zuckerberg's plea for "digital etiquette," we all hope our friends and family don't misuse our photos, emails, and other online stuff. And yes, it's a reminder that there are indeed people on the other ends of our social media interactions. But the notion also highlights how social sites have co-opted the meaning of "friend." Schweitzer wasn't actually a friend, but a Facebook subscriber. Zuckerberg later tweeted: "Fwiw, I've been exchanging emails w/ @cschweitz & she seems lovely."

To rely on Zuckerberg's version of digital etiquette in a business context -- one that includes customers, competitors, former employees, media, online crooks, and other audience groups -- seems naive at best.

2. Personal can become professional in an instant.

The latest online privacy dustup shows again the speed with which personal can become professional, and vice versa. An apparently harmless family photo is now "a Facebook story." Zuckerberg's celebrity certainly magnified the issue -- it's an extreme case -- but the same concept applies to everyone who's on a social site. A personal photo or post on Facebook, for example, can quickly cross into the professional realm simply by virtue of listing an employer on your page.

BYOD is an enormous multiplier here, as data on employee-owned devices -- including social media activity -- used for work can be discoverable in business lawsuits. Don't simply trust that common sense will prevail on social and other online media. Educate yourself and employees on account and privacy settings. Manage risks with clear, enforceable corporate policies.

3. Twitter is not an appropriate forum for hashing out disputes.

There are some compelling examples of Twitter as a customer service channel, such as "Comcast Bill." But working out heated disagreements in Twitter shorthand -- and in public -- is chock-full of peril. Move contentious interactions to a different forum with fewer prying eyes. Zuckerberg's photo itself was pretty innocuous; the ensuing tweets generated the real attention, much of it negative. The "digital etiquette" message alone has been re-tweeted more than 500 times.

4. Social business isn't always puppies and kittens.

There's an endless supply of advice for small businesses and other organizations trying to get a handle on social media. Much of that information seems to suggest that social is a sure thing -- do it and watch the cash register ring. But there's a downside, too, and when things go wrong they often do so in a public forum, which can be expensive.

Take the cautionary tale of the Redner Group. The small PR firm fumed on Twitter over unfavorable coverage of one of its client's video games and implied it would withhold review copies from certain outlets in the future, causing a backlash. The client subsequently fired the firm.

It's a pretty safe guess that Randi Zuckerberg -- and certainly her brother -- isn't losing much sleep over this incident. It's probably not going to hurt her bottom line. For the rest of us, though, it's a reminder that social business isn't always free and easy. It requires real thought, like any other business initiative.

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re: Zuckerberg Photo Flap: 4 Lessons

I find it more than suspicious that former FB marketing director, Randi Zuckerberg, tried to make a huge fuss about this 'private' photo being shared -- at a time when she is apparently desperately trying to gin up PR for the failing reality show, "Start-Ups," that she produces.

I smell a publicity loving rodent...

re: Zuckerberg Photo Flap: 4 Lessons

5. Bad situations, with social media, can be avoided with 100% confidence.. by not using social media.

re: Zuckerberg Photo Flap: 4 Lessons

The biggest lesson that anyone needs to know about social media is that, most likely than not, you're creating content and attracting users (friends, clients, etc.) for someone else's Internet advertising platform. Any time an ad gets served on a web page, someone's getting paid for it - and when you create content (i.e. your status updates) and people log in to read them, they see the ads (or at least the call is made to the server to deliver the ad - whether or not it gets rendered in the browser is a different story), someone makes money. Getting attention/spotlight brings revenue... for someone. The Zuckerbergs make money because they run the platform - how are you making money from their platform?

At any rate, the issues that you're seeing here come from those who are creating things for the general public (i.e. lowest common denominator) and putting them out there without appropriate education regarding the ramifications of their actions. Then the general public is finding out, sometimes the hard way, how to navigate around. "Digital Etiquette" is something you'll find dancing in the meadow with unicorns, lepreichans and the Easter Bunny. Some would even say that etiquette in general is dying a slow, painful death - thanks to the digital age.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor

re: Zuckerberg Photo Flap: 4 Lessons

What a shocking report, nothing on Facebook is safe, wow such an eye opener...NOT! Anything put online should be considered available forever and to whoever. Anyone who does not think so will soon find the error of their ways. I find it disingenuous that Randi Zuckerberg even has the audacity to complain when her brothers views are privacy indicate there is no privacy