Who Dat on Twitter? Facebook?

Social media can be one of your organization’s greatest assets in reaching customers….or your worst nightmare when blindsided by instantaneous information that is impossible to control.

Greg Bensel, vice president of communications of the New Orleans Saints, recently made an entertaining presentation on the benefits and drawbacks of social media. The Saints have transformed themselves into a digital media juggernaut—utilizing the various formats and platforms to communicate with their notoriously rabid fans. Check out the team’s website and you will find it robust with information: stories, videos, photos, community relations, etc. Currently, it even has a tab leading to a microsite regarding the league’s dispute with players on the collective bargaining agreement.

Bensel pointed out the site is a wonderful avenue to communicate with the team’s target audiences and proudly noted that, after games or other newsworthy events, the Saints’ site gets more hits than the local newspaper, The Times-Picayune.

Additionally, the club boasts of a Facebook page with more than 1.2 million friends, a Twitter feed with 46,400 followers, and an email database of 120,000. The team can communicate with hundreds of thousands of fans with one click of the mouse.

But there are digital pitfalls. Recently, Bensel was enjoying a casual lunch with friends and got an unexpected call. Head coach Sean Payton’s 13-year old daughter had posted on her Facebook page that the family was moving to Dallas. Bensel’s cell phone immediately lit up like a pinball machine, and within an hour, the news of the teenage girl’s posting had been reported on ESPN. The team was forced to be reactive rather than proactive with a strategic, planned announcement.

The Payton incident certainly isn’t isolated and pales in comparison to the profound impact the technology has had on other users of late. Ill-advised emails have turned into front-page stories and morning show reports and have led to employees losing their jobs. Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the Aflac duck, was fired over an inappropriate tweet concerning Japan and the recent tsunami, and the digital agency that had been handling Chrysler’s digital work lost the automaker’s account after an employee sent out a tweet containing an obscenity about Detroit drivers. The guilty employee was fired, but his one mistake could affect the livelihood of 20 other agency employees who worked on the Chrysler account.

The digital bottom line: Don’t put any comments in a Facebook posting, email or tweet that you would not want printed on the front page of the newspaper. Even private message might not remain private for long. As I always tell my kids, there is a reason they call it the World Wide Web.

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