ESPN had an all-hand's on deck meeting for talent recently. Part of it was to deal with the company's continuing difficulties in social media. Indeed, ESPN continues to revise its existing social media policy for talent and reporters. OKTC received a copy of that ESPN revised policy which serves to illustrate the challenges a major media company is having traversing the comparative wild west of social media. That challenge was illuminated recently with the Bruce Feldman Twitter firestorm that erupted in the wake of Feldman's "suspension" by the network.
ESPN was caught flat-footed by the outpouring of indignation.
Indeed, the only people who weren't commenting on the Feldman firestorm were ESPN employees. A position that, given the close relationship Feldman has with many other reporters at ESPN, made many of these employees incredibly uncomfortable.
There's also an inherent conflict embedded in ESPN's attempt to restrict content -- social media is predicated upon open interaction with others. ESPN's policy is all about restricting that access, building Chinese walls in an era of open sourced content. This is nothing new, mind you in the continuing wars over what employees can say and when they can say it. Schools are issuing absolute prohibitions on athlete Tweets, companies are attempting to control the Twitter addresses of employees -- it's why companies want their call letters in the Twitter name -- and entities like ESPN have to be aware that the more popular a personality is in social media circles the better leverage he or she has when its time for a new contract negotiation. (That's assuming, anyway, that the employees retain the right to their Twitter addresses. It sucks to bust your ass building up a Twitter following and then have someone who has had nothing to do with your address taking over. I'd fight like hell against any employer owning my account).
Regardless of your take on ESPN, it's interesting to review the full scope of the revised ESPN Twitter policy and consider what it teaches us. Namely, the lesson is simple -- we own you. Don't freelance. And if you do freelance be prepared to be suspended or fired for any statement that you make. OKTC would argue that one of the real issues that ESPN has with this policy is overly restricting its creative talent from interacting freely on social media. That is, why should interesting and good Tweeters who understand the emerging dynamic of social media -- and I'm just picking three here because there are many that would fit this criteria, say, Bill Simmons Jemele Hill, and Scott Van Pelt -- be subject to the same restrictions as someone like Joe Schad?
In other words, why is there a one-size-fits-all social media policy for a company as diverse as ESPN?
OKTC knows for a fact that many of these creative talents with a better understanding of social media than their bosses feel overly restricted by this social media policy that applies uniformly to all talent. Basically, if you're ESPN why don't you trust your creative talent that actually has a fan base to interact with those fans? Isn't that one of the reasons you hired people like Simmons, Hill, and Van Pelt, to increase the favorability ratings of your brand? I mean, really, the fact that Craig James and Scott Van Pelt are subject to the same Twitter policy is a complete joke. One guy's funny, witty, and engaging. The other's not.
(Bolded words are from the actual guidelines, not my own additions).
For Talent and Reporters
ESPN regards social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, message boards, conversation pages and other social sites as important venues for content distribution, user engagement, newsgathering, transparency and the amplification of talent voices. As such, we will hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. These guidelines apply to all ESPN talent, anchors, play-by-play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports-related content.
• Think before your tweet. Understand that at all times you are representing ESPN, and Twitter (as with other social sites) offers the equivalent of a live microphone. Simple rule: If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in a column, don't post it on any social network.
• Think before you re-tweet. Intended or not, the dissemination of others’ tweets under your name represents an endorsement of that content – and can even be interpreted as information you personally are reporting. If you re-tweet inaccurate or inappropriate content, it can tarnish your credibility and that of ESPN.
• Do not break news on Twitter. We want to serve fans in the social sphere, but the first priority is to ESPN news and information efforts. Public news (i.e. announced in news conferences) can be distributed without vetting. However, sourced or proprietary news must be vetted by the TV or Digital news desks. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on Twitter and other social sites.
• All posted content must be consistent with ESPN's employee policies and Editorial Guidelines for Standards & Practices. This includes the existing Commentary and Media Criticism guidelines, and posts should not include any references to personal endorsements, promotions or business relationships.
• Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from your supervisor. Personal Web sites and blogs that contain sports content or ESPN marks are not permitted.
• In most cases, content you tweet will also appear on ESPN.com. Editors will choose the social content to be posted, and ESPN.com will “simulcast” those sports-related tweets on sport, contributor and team pages.
• If ESPN.com opts not to post social content created by ESPN talent, those individuals are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give opinions on sports related topics on personal platforms.
• At all times, exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for colleagues, business associates and fans.
• Keep internal deliberations confidential. Do not discuss how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced; stories or features in progress; interviews conducted; or any future coverage plans.
• Do not post any confidential or proprietary company information, references to ESPN policies or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN.
We realize this is a fast moving space and these guidelines will be amended as warranted. Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, but not limited to, suspension or dismissal.