Johnson's World: Chicken, Civility & Customers

Recent events offer valuable lessons in online etiquette.

September 1, 2012
Steve Johnson10773449

Last month there was a big to-do on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube, aided and abetted by the fourth estate. The topic? Chicken.

One company wanted us to eat more chicken. Others retorted that no, we should eat less chicken. Still others declared that to eat or not to eat chicken was a matter of free speech. Or gay rights. Or family values. Or freedom of religion.

Everyone weighed in, from the Chicago Democratic Machine to the Muppets. The shouting was reaching full crescendo when a video appeared on YouTube of an encounter at the drive-up window of a Chick-fil-A restaurant. If you don’t know what all the brouhaha is about, just search YouTube for “chick fil a bully” and watch the video.

The antagonist/star/creator/narrator of the video badgers a teenage girl minding the drive-up with his perception of Chick-fil-A, hectors her about working there, makes a declaration about his own sexual orientation, and generally demonstrates poor judgment and poor taste. Alarmingly, he appears to be sober.

As if to drive home the point about poor judgment, the schmuck then posted his video on the Internet for all the world to see and admire. He wasn’t caught in the act so much as he was bragging about his act.

Not So Virtual Backlash

Outcry against his demonstration of immaturity was universal, with even ardent supporters of his espoused position remaining eerily silent. The worst was yet to come, as this fellow was identified as the chief financial officer of a medical supply corporation, which promptly fired him for his lack of discretion.

Here’s the rub. This man’s monolog, while boorish, was actually very tame compared to many of the flaming diatribes I see posted on Facebook and on Twitter. Some of the most strident and hateful posts that I see come from “professionals” who serve the printing business. I’m not talking about debating offset vs. digital, or toner vs. inkjet, or even e-books vs. printed books. The nasty posts I see are about things like politics and religion; topics guaranteed to alienate and offend.

By the way, the audience that seems so anonymous when these hate-mongers post their invective is actually made up of their friends, vendors, and customers. They don’t seem to realize that their bad manners are also bad for business.

I think the chicken video man comes off so badly because we can clearly see the poor restaurant clerk who is the target of his smug blathering. Her poise and grace in reaction to his ranting makes him look like a thug.

Somehow a corporate CFO, who should have known better, crossed an invisible line by using his bad social media manners in real life. A safer practice would be to use the same good manners everywhere: with friends, with strangers, and even on Facebook.

Think Before Posting

May I offer some suggestions for your Facebooking, Tweeting, Tumblring, and YouTuberizing?

Would you say it in person? Would you say it to your mother? If not, then why are you saying it online to people who you identify as friends? If you get some bizarre pleasure out of driving away those closest to you, then a session or two with a therapist is probably in order.

What will it accomplish? I’m all for standing up against injustice, supporting the little guy, and speaking for those who don’t have a voice...if it will serve some purpose. Nobody, but nobody, ever changed their mind about an issue because of a poorly written Facebook posting. Speaking out for your values is a matter of principle. Reposting some stupid cartoon is just slacktivism.

Keep it professional. You are a professional, aren’t you?

Of course, this being the Information Age, we quickly learned the name of the Chick-fil-A bully. The no-longer-anonymous Adam Smith’s invisible hand of enlightened self-interest can work for you. Yes, you can have good manners and increase profits.

LinkedIn seemed immune.

In light of the subject matter this month, I would like to offer you a look at my own Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. You can find me at:

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at [email protected].