Rick Sanchez, CNN’s Social Media Host, Screws Up & Now You Worry About The Community

Rick SanchezWe all know how social media has changed the way that information is passed around the world. It has greatly contributed to the whole “citizen journalist” concept and one of the major breakthroughs was with the @breakingnews account on Twitter that amassed a huge following because it broke news from around the world way faster than what you would find with any other press or media outlet. Soon enough, MSNBC acquired the organization and the powerful Twitter account and this was a another sign of mainstream media’s growing adoption of social media.

But while you might think that media should push content out to social media, some publications are going to find a way to integrate it. For CNN, they started diving right into it when they put a host that some probably thought was more tech-savvy than the rest on the air. That host was Rick Sanchez and became known for the guy on CNN that integrated social networking features on his broadcast, specifically Twitter. In fact, on his show Rick’s List, Sanchez actually made it pretty interactive – almost like it was “our” broadcast.

Unfortunately, for all his knowledge of social media and skills as a journalist, Sanchez has made a crucial mistake – one that has resulted in his downfall and now becomes a case study on how to really manage your community in a crisis. You see, Sanchez recently made some disparaging and offensive remarks about The Daily Show host Jon Stewart on a radio show earlier this week.

Depending on someone to really engage your community is risky

So what happens now? For Sanchez, he had grown a huge following on Twitter: over 145,000. But really who owns that account. Right now, it probably looks like CNN since when you look at Sanchez’s Twitter handle it says @ricksanchezcnn so does that mean that all 145,000 of his followers should be transferred to CNN? If so, how can that be done?

I think this is probably a difficult thing for people to get around to figuring out. For one, if you have someone who built up a “personal brand” while working within the company who has become known as the social media guy or girl, then you put the investment and time into trusting that they will continue to do your brand justice and promise, but should that person leave unexpectedly or find themselves in a compromising position as Sanchez is in now, then how does one resolve this? Definitely a risk for all companies, but not one that they should shy away from. Even without social media being in existence, this dilemma would still remain and people would still want to find a way to find a solution.

Just think about it…you have a spokesperson go out every day and talk about your product and company and eventually that person becomes someone that your customers trust. They have built up a rapport and want to continue hearing from that person. You give that person an email address and a phone number that is widely used and they are active out and about promoting your product & brand. Then, years later, they leave the company (voluntarily or involuntarily) and now you lose a valuable asset to your company. Now, how is that any different than what you would find with someone using social media?

Introducing social media termination clauses

As far-fetched as it sounds, should your use of social media to represent your customers come with a clause that will automatically remove these fans from your personal brand and transfer them to your company in the event of your termination or leaving a business? It seems a bit ridiculous, but there could be rationale for that – except it’s going to be difficult to determine why someone decided to be a fan or follower of that individual (good content, supporting the brand, friend, saw them at an event, etc.)

Don’t let the headline here fool you…I’m not suggesting the businesses enact these “termination clauses” with regards to social media because it’s going to be rather ridiculous. But there is a twist on how things can play out…for example, if you first enter a company with your own social media presence, then should your business allow you to represent them using your own brand, knowing that you will continue to grow that presence while benefiting them? Or, should you start a new account under their brand like Sanchez has done and most other businesses are doing – e.g. @ricksanchezcnn, @donlemoncnn & @comcastbill? I think that the latter might be a more reasonable example even though people will have to start building up a new brand all over again with the “branded handle”.

So now that you’ve probably left the company like Sanchez, what does your company do with your followers? If the Twitter account is “owned” by the business, then another tweet would be good to tell them that they can also follow other personalities and individuals with the company. If it’s a Facebook presence, then a similar policy can be put into place. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple enough solution that can be rolled out in a quick fashion. In fact, if you look at ReadWriteWeb’s site, they offer a similar inquiry into how your social media presence for your brand can be affected by simply having someone be a superstar and then walk out.

Community management has it’s ups & downs. Make sure you work through it, not hide from it.

Don’t be afraid of community management. Trust in your talent and hires that they will do well for your brand. Having them create a personal one is simply fine and you obviously have to take the risks that come with it. You cannot control the community nor can you create one. It comes naturally and is grown organically and your community manager’s role is to appease and help them. If your brand is stable and good enough, then those customers will still flock to other representatives of your company and also be friends with your brand’s social media presence.

And community management issues doesn’t happen only when bad community representatives leave. They can take place when good ones depart for greener pastures – it’s the fact of life…you cannot expect them to stay forever chained to their desk promoting your brand. Just look at Frank Eliason and what he did for Comcast…he set up the social media presence for the cable giant and now is representing the banking & financial institution Citi as the VP of Social. So how does Comcast compensate for losing a great asset? Simple…they have other community managers step up and fill those shoes. And while it’s a big loss, life will continue to go on and companies will need to adapt.

Are there companies out there that are leveraging social media with strict policies in place (besides federal regulations)? I’m sure there are and they might work for you…but trust in your brand to be strong and the faith you have in your community managers will get you to where you want to be, regardless of whether those followers “leave” with the social media channel.

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