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.

Kevin Casey

December 27, 2012

5 Min Read
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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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