ESPN and the Catholic School Teacher

So I've had some time to sit on the ESPN-Twittergate story. If you haven't followed it, ESPN told employees that they were going to prohibit the use of Twitter unless posts served the needs of the network, i.e. don't post about what you're drinking, post about how many K's Beckett had last night.

The guidelines were sniffed out by Mashable; was tweeted by Ric Bucher, a NBA beat reporter for ESPN and ESPN.com with over 18k followers; and was analyzed by a zillion other bloggers/media outlets and tweeted like there was no tomorrow.

To get the word from the horses mouth, read this article on Sports Business Daily. But basically, ESPN.com Editor-In-Chief Rob King, one of the architects of the new plan, said:

We really felt we were at a point, like other large media companies, where we would help folks understand how we would play in this social networking space. If you follow things that have been happening on ESPN.com recently, you’ve seen ways in which we’ve really tried to embrace Twitter, in particular, as a means to providing content in real time for live events. We think there’s a real opportunity to give folks a real sense of who we are as fans. Whether it’s me saying that I’m a fan of the Script W, which is my code for the Washington Nationals, that’s an opportunity to show people a side of who we are as news gatherers and as sports fans in keeping with what everything that ESPN is about.

It’s an important opportunity to reiterate to folks that this technology is the equivalent of a live microphone. In that respect, it should be treated with some measure of awareness about how it represents those individuals who are forward-facing talent and how it represents how ESPN wants to connect with the audience. There’s a lot of education that goes along with it. Anyone who’s ever had a tweet re-tweeted to an audience knows that it can be presented in ways that you might never have understood or intended when you originally articulated those 140 characters.

Basically, what he's saying is that he wants all audience facing talent (even general employees I believe) to watch what the heck they are saying via Twitter.

On one hand I agree with this because if you are out there in the social web, representing a brand such as ESPN or any other brand for that matter, yes, you need to monitor what you write, what you record, what you post, etc. It's basic common sense. The policies are in place for a reason and if someone posts a Tweet that's inappropriate and detrimental to the organization, it should be addressed per the policy.

On the other hand, boxing in the people on the front lines who build relationships with viewers is not the way the social web works. At the end of the day, the social web is all about community. ESPN's on-air personalities and even their PR/Marketing folks are the ones who can really help drive awareness of ESPN's coverage, thought leadership, programs, etc. However, there needs to be some flexibility for them to be human.

To me this story is like the Catholic School Teacher who wants you to behave and when you don't, whacks you on the knuckles with a ruler. Sorry Sister, those days are over with. Put the ruler away and let the kids learn.