The $340K Social Media Mistake That Didn't Have to Happen!

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Right on the heels of the epic Social Media debacle I wrote about last week, here’s a story about a terminated employee that left the company (amicably) and took his Twitter account with him.  This wouldn’t be news except for one thing:  His job was to create and manage the company’s Social Media, including their Twitter account.  He received no instructions from the bosses on the creation of the account so he just used his personal account and updated the name.   At the time of his departure, he had grown the company’s network to 17,000+ followers.  The company is now suing the ex-employee for $340,000, saying that network of connected consumers belongs to them and that each follower is worth $2.50.

As we move into 2012, it’s becoming more and more important to know how Social Media works and to have a plan in place to avoid the common mistakes that dealers make in setting up their Social Media profiles.  Your Social Media presence is imperative to promoting your business where your customer lives. Your Social Media accounts should be taken as seriously as your bank accounts.  They represent future revenue.  They are your reputation.

Lately, I’ve had many dealers call me to address their Social presence where they have 2, 3, 4 or more Facebook pages and multiple Twitter accounts.  Some Facebook pages are Personal Profiles, others are Business Pages.  Because you want your presence to be consistent and focused, you only want one account on each platform to grow your community.  Cleaning this up takes a lot of time, effort and money.

Having been the car biz my entire life, I can see how these missteps are happening.  Someone in management decides that the store needs a Facebook presence.  They call someone (an employee) to “handle it”.   The employee does what they’re told and they create the Facebook account.  Then, that person quits or is terminated.  Ah oh, suddenly no one knows how to access the store’s Facebook page because that person did it under their own personal email.  So, because Facebook is “free” (it’s not really), the management has another person create a new page (or wrongly, a personal profile) and the process starts all over again.

It really is time to take Social Media seriously.  Sure, you can find someone (read: under-30-something) to set up profiles but that’s 1/1000th of what Social Media marketing means for your store.  Your customer lives online.  They are spending more and more of their disposable time and income online; they are on Facebook more than they watch TV.  Your store needs to be represented well, your marketing message needs to be consistent, and that can’t be done by just “anybody who uses Facebook”.

In the case of this ex-employee, had the company taken their accounts seriously and had him create a dedicated Twitter account to market them, they wouldn’t be fighting it out in court.  Had they had him sign a Social Media policy concerning ownership of the accounts, the notion of separating his account from the company would’ve been addressed.  While the case will be watched by all internet marketers and businesses, the initial facts of the case look like they’ll swing in the ex-employee’s favor.  He owns the email that the account was set up under–pure and simple.

Whichever way this turns out, we can all agree that it would’ve been better to not have it happen in the first place.  Court disputes only make the lawyers rich. Move forward into Social Media deliberately. If you’re not a regular user, get educated with how these networks run.  Information is power.  You’ll make informed decisions about your online reputation,  your Social customer, and your Social business.

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  • Vern Southard

    Very timely information. I’ve been in the automotive industry for fourteen years and the computer information management industry as well. I have set up websites for car dealers and also managed social media, Ebay and Craigslist marketing efforts for a luxury car dealership. Your observations that traditional dealership management does not take any of this seriously, nor want to expend any real resources on it, nor dedicate the responsibility to manage it to a qualified, experienced, and dedicated employee but somehow want to exploit it for free is very true. So then they get into big debacles like this. My primary job has been as a salesman but since I have extensive computer technical education, experience, knowledge and skills including digital and analog media background, I’ve tried to enlighten management on how to properly approach the use of interactive digital resources, but have run into fear of on line exposure and transparency, lack of basic understanding of what social media is all about, and no concept of the incredible value that properly managing social media, email, websites, blogs, and integrating them into the main business model can offer at a very reasonable cost compared to traditional advertising and PR methods. It’s like trying to tell dinosaurs that they better learn to adapt quickly because the climate has changed completely, yet they insist on doing it the same old way even thought they can see it just is not working and has not worked for a least the past four years. You are the only person in the car business I have encountered who actually gets it on all levels, at the car business level and the digital on-line social media level and recognizes and is prepared to teach how to deal with the customer-centric switch that has taken place. I love cars and the car business, it can be so much better than it has been in the past if they would pay attention to you. Surely you are making an impact because what you say is right on. Customers are ready to become part of the business model if the obsolete control mentality and adversarial selling relationship was refocused into being genuine and open, and welcoming customer input and making them part of the business operation, along with every employee at every level, while managing and observing and learning from the on going interactions, which can be done by using the technology correctly.

    • Kathi Kruse

      Vern, you are singing my song! Thanks so much for your insightful comment. Although we are in the minority now, each day there are more and more coming our way. Social business is how people buy cars now, geez it’s how we buy everything now, so doing things the “same old way” means certain death. Keep the faith dude! I’d love to connect with you on SM networks. Twitter: @kathikruse Facebook: /kathikruse LinkedIn: /krusecontrol and just about everywhere else!

  • Clive Roach (@jedi_roach)

    I have read about this example that you highlighted on several blogs, but this is the first time I am now hearing that he used his personal email. This does change things considerably. We await the verdict.. well, 1000s of people around the world as most people in Social media know about this by now.

  • Tim Southernwood

    I have to disagree with your suggestion that the employee stands to win this lawsuit and keep the 17,000 followers (actually the number has now increased to 22,000).
    The account was never intended as a personal account. It was clearly setup by the employee FOR the company.. that much is agreed on.. and the company brand name was used for the profile.. albeit with the employee’s name appended.
    He was under the employment of the company to build that account and maintain it, and the argument will be made that the people joined primarily believing the account to represent the company. The posts were all in support of the company.
    The employee.. on termination (or before) took it upon himself to change the login access.. thereby barring the company from accessing it first and blocking him.
    I hold that these arguments will easily persuade a Judge to find for the applicant (the company).
    What might not be so clear.. is the ownership of the 5000 followers added on after the employee was terminated, but my thinking is.. 1) how do you ever separate them out and is it worth even trying? 2) were they still joining the company’s following.. or were they following the ex-employee.

    Your points however about the importance of companies paying careful attention to their social media strategies.. including account setup and management.. cannot be stressed enough!

  • Isaac Resek

    This is very true

    • Kathi Kruse

      Thanks Isaac!