Thursday, December 13, 2012

Should KTBS' social media policy prevent Rhonda Lee from answering questions about...Rhonda Lee?

Many companies are working on setting up social media policies, which can often be summed up as follows: leave it to the professionals. For example, if someone posted a rant about my employer, the proper course of action for me would be to refer this to certain people in my company, and those people would prepare any response. Those people, not myself, are properly the representatives of the company in those situations.

But what if you are on-air talent for a television station, and the rant is about you?

This is what happened to Rhonda Lee, who used to work for KTBS. Someone went to the KTBS Facebook page and made a comment about Lee's hairstyle, saying that she was wearing her hair too short and wondering if she had cancer. Lee herself replied, saying that she did not have cancer, and explaining the reasons why she wore her hair the way she did.

She was fired. After some Internet talk, KTBS issued the following statement:

On November 28, 2012, KTBS dismissed two employees for repeated violation of the station’s written procedure. We can confirm that Rhonda Lee was one of the employees. Another employee was a white male reporter who was an eight year veteran of the station. The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page. Included is an email that was sent to all news department employees informing them of this procedure. This procedure is based on advice from national experts and commonly used by national broadcast and cable networks and local television stations across the country. Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow. Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.

In the email, an unnamed KTBS marketing project manager instructed all employees to either not respond to Facebook complaints at all, or to direct the complainer to contact information for an unnamed person at KTBS.

It sounds like a wonderful policy, but the policy itself has resulted in a number of complaints on the KTBS 3 News Facebook page. True to form, KTBS apparently is not responding (other than the statement above).

The one thing that makes me uncomfortable about KTBS' response is what it says about KTBS' opinion of its on-air talent. Television stations want us to think that the weather people on TV are our friends - people we can talk to. But according to KTBS' stated policy, its own on-air talent is apparently not smart enough to respond to personal questions on Facebook. In essence, this reduces the on-air talent to talking heads who are only allowed to perform on camera, when adult supervision is present.

While I can understand a company setting a social media policy for "back office" people, I can't understand why KTBS restricts the actions of its public-facing folks.
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