Exactly one month ago today, Trayvon Martin was senselessly killed it what appears to be a racially motivated attack. The inaction of the local police to investigate and arrest the killer, George Zimmerman, sparked a nationwide protest, fueled, of course by social media.
The arc of awareness of this issue moved along a fairly predictable path: an outrageous crime is committed, the local fortresses are unresponsive, key players, in this case Trayvon’s parents, use the social media megaphone to share their story and demand justice, the networks begin to fire and a cycle of protests, petitions, blogs, and celebrity Tweets create mainstream media attention and on land protests.
It’s become the way protests begin and are carried forward, and it works.
I just saw a small paragraph in USA Today that I thought was an interesting addition to this mix. The item is in the sports section and is entitled, “ESPN Reversal.” The gist of it is that employees at ESPN were expressing their support of the effort to bring Zimmerman to justice, or at least to trial, by posting pictures of themselves in hoodies, the symbol of solidarity with Trayvon’s family, on Twitter. The immediate reaction of ESPN was to order them to stop. And then they reversed themselves after internal discussion. As the head of ESPN said, “It’s a tragic situation that’s led to much thoughtful discussions throughout the company.”
MediaBistro has more on ESPN’s decision here.
What I find fascinating about this issue is the possibility that we’re inching towards large institutions beginning with an internal conversation that leads to a policy decision on how social media should be used personally by employees, rather than the de facto alarm, shut down, calm down, it’s OK, the sky-isn’t-falling concession. Social media policies are never going to cover all of the possibilities in this fast moving world, and the hope is that employees will learn to use their common sense when using even their own channels when their affiliation with their company is public, but, we also need a new default setting within organizations that has senior staff begin with a conversation about what makes them uncomfortable about certain uses of personal channels and allows employees an opportunity to respond and find common ground.
And wouldn’t that common ground be a great place for all organizations to set as a goal to find over the next year? We’re all figuring how to use social media organizationally together, in real-time, and this is one more example of an organization becoming more authentic and agile.