The perils of corporate tweeting

Many enterprise level-tech firms have sophisticated social media strategies. Unfortunately, all it takes is one employee with inflammatory social media skills, and the firm's brand takes a beating.

In a series of tweets seemingly more suited to a sociopathic teen than a corporate employee, Adam Orth, (former) creative director at Microsoft Studios, managed to grind his career at Redmond into sparkly bits of dust.

Orth fell into a typical cybertrap: he was joking with a developer friend, but doing so on a public forum--Twitter. You would think that an executive with a prominent tech firm would understand that his 140-character comments weren't privileged communication, but perhaps not, judging from Orth's lack of judgement in honing his tweet-messages.

"Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an always-on console," Orth tweeted. "Every device is 'always on'. That's the world we live in. #dealwithit."

Of course, the hashtage-phrase "#dealwithit" is now an Internet meme.

For those of you (like me) who don't own X-boxes or Playstations, there's games that leverage the Internet, and games that don't. The former allow you to interface with other players, among other things. I guess there's a certain satisfaction in blasting a CGI-zombie that's being controlled by some sleep-deprived teen in Seoul, rather than a zombie responding to internal code.

But Net connections aren't "always-on" nor should they be expected to be. Many people live in narrow-bandwidth areas, and don't think it's all in impoverished rural areas--plenty of turf in Australia and the USA, for example, is underserved in terms of bandwidth.

The "always-on" issue is a hot button, but Orth seemed oblivious. His tweets built a personal pyramid of perceived privilege--when the developer asked what he would do if he lived in smaller US towns without fast Net pipes, he tweeted: "Why on earth would I live there?"

Facepalm!

Oooooh. Well, some of his customers live there. Now former customers, as Orth "resigned after igniting a flame war on Twitter," according to The Guardian.

"Internet connectivity varies enormously over the US, and some parents have also expressed worries that an always-on connection would break broadband caps without their knowledge," said the UK newspaper.

Microsoft issued a Teflon-coated statement about the incident. "We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday," said Xbox community manager Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb in a blog post. "This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer-centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter."

This highlights the importance of company spokespeople communicating with the press and the public. The science of public relations relies on competence, just as other sciences rely on competent practitioners, rather than goofballs with chemistry sets.

Worse tweets alleged

Although it hasn't received much press, analysis of Orth's tweets dating back to 2011 (his account is now locked, so they're offline) reveals a darker side. Take a look at his earlier tweets of Andrew Orth, according to a blog post by Andrew Bridgman on April 12.

Bridgman has cached tweets that are purportedly from "Orthy": Orth's handle for his Twitter account. Impossible to verify, but if they're real, they demonstrate a penchant for sarcasm verging on the offensive. According to these, it seems "Orthy" enjoys yanking people's chains with absurd, inflammatory nonsense.

An example sent January 6, 2013: "personally, I think always on internet connection is a pretty good idea. not quite hitler-level, but up there". You read that right, and that's not the only time "Orthy" referenced the notorious level of the Third Reich, according to the blog post.

Warning: these messages contain some bad language. Given the nature of the Net, we don't know if Adam Orth actually created them, but they are a primer for what NOT to tweet if you're representing a firm. "angry that u have to buy ms points that obscure the real price of things? just ask ur boss to pay you in ms points then from now on, jeez", reads another.

These tweets seem more the work of a sociopathic teen than a corporate employee. Perhaps examining the previous tweets of job applicants should be as commonplace as scrutinizing their Facebook profiles.

This story, "The perils of corporate tweeting" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

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