ESPN joined the ranks of organizations that issue policies for its members use of Twitter. In fact, it outright banned Tweets that don’t serve the organization. Does this sound crazy to you?
The news broke via the Twitter feed of ESPN’s NBA analyst Ric Bucher, picked up by TheBigLeague.com: “The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN. Kinda figured this was coming. Not sure what this means but I…I’m probably violating some sort of policy just by telling you. In any case, stay tuned,” is what he noted yesterday.
And, glancing through the document sent out internally to ESPN, he’s absolutely right–on two counts. Firstly, according to guideline points five and six:
- The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content
- Assume at all times you are representing ESPN
And then, according to guideline nine, ESPN’s staff must “Avoid discussing internal policies.” Congratulations to Bucher for so roundly ignoring the policy right from the get go. Let’s hope that the final line of the memo doesn’t end up biting him on the ass–“Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.”
Of course, companies are fully within their rights and the range of normal business practice by issuing a guideline that covers how its employees portray it in public forums. Even the British government is wise to this, and recently issued its own code of behavior suggestions for Twittering public servants.
But ESPN’s management has displayed a dismayingly olde worlde mindset in this action–the U.K. government’s guide is way more enlightened, for example. Twitter is not merely a new type of broadcasting device, akin to a mailshot or PR feed. It’s a tool for sharing conversations/ideas/thoughts/news/whatever with others using the service. Its very essence and lifeblood is the flurry of facts interspersed with dialogue and personal thoughts of Twitterers–it makes people, particularly celebrities, accessible in a way never before seen. All of this especially applies to sports commentators, of course–it’s their personality, their expertise, their individual quirkiness that makes you prefer one guy over another. These are traits you’d hope to see in a Tweet.
As soon as you start using it as another boring, corporate-suit news channel, your followers will a) stop paying attention and then b) stop following you. Which implies ESPN’s new policy about this amazing new Twitter info channel–a fabulous way to connect to your fans–will result in fans actually disconnecting.
Of course, ESPN’s not the only entity to implement such a draconian Twitter rule. This week it was also hinted that the NFL is in the process of polishing its own social media policy, which would involve limiting using the services on game days–presumably to keep players focused, and limit the chance that tactics would be revealed. Some teams, however, may be forbidding players from Twittering entirely–akin to slapping a digital gag on them. Did people do this when television arrived? Meanwhile the U.S. Marine corps. is completely removing social network powers from its systems, because of security risks. This is extreme censorship, but, for once, entirely understandable–the idea that someone’s battlefield safety could be compromised by Twitter is unpleasant.
Here at Fast Company we writers Twitter our stories if we think they’ll be interesting to our followers, but our fab editors, taking a radically different line to ESPN, have noted that “it doesn’t matter if you’re sometimes personal in your Tweets.” That policy seems way more grounded, more sensible, more human and, frankly, better for business. Or is that just me?