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ESPN Issues Anti-Social Media Guidelines [Updated]

If you've been on Twitter tonight, you may know that the news du nuit is this: ESPN Tells Employees They Can Only Tweet About ESPN - . The link gets you to a Mashable post, which gets you to an NPR story, which gets you to the tweet below from on-air talent Ric Bucher (via Mashable). But it turns out that's a bit simplistic, because ESPN's Twitter Commandments (well the network calls them guidelines), are so detailed, and yet so obtuse, that no one, not even Ric Bucher, is sure what exactly they mean. In one of his tweets following the one here, he tells his 18,000-plus followers: "My guess is I can still tweet about my vacation/car shopping, etc. Which I will do, if I can. But the informal NBA talk is prob in jeopardy." Jeez, I'm sitting here watching the news of the two CurrenTV journalists getting released from North Korea, and, um, there are certain parallels, although hopefully there's no threat that Bucher will have to do 12 years of hard labor at ESPN's Bristol, CT headquarters. (Ha!) While you can go read the ESPN Twitter guidelines in their dopey entirety, ironically enough, over at this NBC Sports site, here are a few choice ones, with my own commentary in parentheses at the end:

  • Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted. (There goes your chance to crow about your kid's soccer team.)
  • Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head. ("Hey, boss, can I tweet about the fact that my flight to the Super Bowl is delayed?" "Absolutely not. That's sports content.")
  • If opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms.(Has it ever occurred that maybe letting there be an open flow of ideas across multiple social and professional platforms might be good for both your employees and the ESPN brand?)
  • The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content. (Only priority? If you have that much control of your employees' lives, why don't you just set up a bunch of cots so they can sleep at the office?)
  • Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven't been posted or produced, interviews you've conducted, or any future coverage plans. (Hey, ESPN, ever seen a B-roll? People love that behind-the-scenes stuff. And, by the way, if this is true you should be firing Ric Bucher because he tweeted about the internal policy about tweeting.)
  • Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN's employee policies and editorial guidelines. (See the bullet point that begins with "Prior to engaging in any form of social networking..." I think we covered this already.)
It's actually surprising that these guidelines are coming from ESPN, a media brand that, up until this point, seemed to know a good platform when it saw it. Instead, we get a document that shows the network has absolutely no trust in its employees -- many of them on-air media professionals -- to use social media wisely. I can't believe I have to say this twice in one 24-hour period, but just as I said earlier about the NFL's increasingly anti-Twitter stance, there's a different way to handle this. It's OK to set up a few guidelines, but there's really no need to go the draconian route, thus limiting any benefit you might get from social media. If someone is repeatedly transgressing in ways that are a clear detriment to the company, then deal with it on an individual basis. It may not seem so at this writing, but with this whole fracas having been a Twitter trending topic all night, and these unbelievably restrictive guidelines in clear view, ESPN is pissing off its audience, and hurting its brand.

UPDATE: Here's ESPN's official statement:

We have been active in the social media space for awhile. As our mission is to serve sports fans, we will continue to be active. We are now merely getting smarter about it by providing guidelines to commentators and reporters.
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