Lessons from the Twitter #fail over NBC Olympics and Guy Adams


(David Saracino/for Capital Business)

In case you’ve missed the digital saga du jour, Guy Adams, a journalist for The Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom, tweeted the email address of Gary Zenkel, the NBC executive responsible for the Olympics. Adams, as well as many others in the social-media ether, had been complaining about NBC’s coverage of the games. Twitter suspended Adams’ account for publicly sharing Zenkel’s address.

As it turns out, it was Twitter that reportedly notified NBC of Adams’ violation and encouraged the news organization to file a complaint (Twitter has now confirmed this). Adams’ account has since been “unsuspended,” but not before an overwhelming number of protestors began wielding 140-character pitchforks at Twitter for its actions.

Unlike other silly flaps that capture the Twittersphere’s microscopic attention span, this one is a real wake-up call for leaders. Even executives at one of social media’s giants can miss how their company’s actions might force them into an unwelcome spotlight. Wouldn’t a company that positions itself as a champion of free speech and one of the key players in the world of social media have guessed that suspending the account of a journalist could cause quite a stir?

Yet even Twitter is not immune from the swift and potent force of its own product, which can alter a company’s reputation faster than you can type #fail. From Netflix to Chick-fil-A, we’ve seen that even some of the most beloved companies on earth can become targets of Twitter’s capacity for viral rage.

As countless leadership consultants have instructed, it’s never a bad idea to stop and ask what would happen if your actions ended up on the front page of the New York Times. Maybe now they’ll start telling people to ask themselves what would happen if the Twitterati take an interest, too.  

More from On Leadership:

Chick-fil-A bites into gay-marriage debate

How to completely destroy an employee’s work life

It ain’t heavy, it’s my email


View Photo Gallery: A look at author Stephen Covey’s “habits” through the prism of seven successful leaders.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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