Lessons to Help Avoid a ‘Weinergate'

June 20, 2011

For the past few weeks, the media has been consumed with the story of how New York congressman Anthony Weiner sent lewd and salacious photographs of himself to women online, culminating in his resignation last week. The scandal found Weiner lying about how his Twitter account was hacked, then admitting that it wasn’t, and finally confessing that the picture that first started all the controversy is one of many he has sent to women in the past. As a result, the Democratic Party and particularly its leader, Nancy Pelosi, came under fire for not forcing his resignation. Now that the dust has begun to settle on the disgrace that played out so publicly, it may be time to start asking what lessons can we learn from this story that could be applied to how clients engage with their employees, and, specifically, how can we help our clients prevent their own version of “Weinergate”?

Let’s first consider how the story broke. Weiner was exposed (no pun intended) through his Twitter account. He claimed his account had been hacked, and the media inquiry started from there. But what are the implications for employees who utilize social media channels like Twitter in their work or even their personal communications? What lessons should companies that interact directly with their consumers on Twitter, Facebook or one of the many other channels out there learn from this scandal?

With the right tools and training, companies can avoid their own Weinergate. They must first reinforce their core values across their organizations. They should raise awareness of the behaviors that will support or detract from those values (eh, hem, using social media to engage in inappropriate photo exchanges). Finally, they need to react quickly and appropriately in terms of company protocols and processes, to address real-time situations like Anthony Weiner’s tweet.

Creating a strong employee culture is crucial in today’s world of rapid information sharing. To this end, here are five guidelines to keep in mind to help “Weinergate-proof” your colleagues’ and clients’ hard work:


  1. One way to Weinergate-proof can be as simple as reviewing communication guidelines and protocols regarding social media within your company’s or client’s internal communications function. Checking to see if these are in place can help them mobilize quickly when a crisis occurs. If protocols are not in place, there may be the need to update crisis plans and establish a decision tree for various issues (i.e., if this happens, then we do “X”).

  2. Another option is conducting an employee engagement and organizational audit to identify specific programs and policies that will better align employee behavior with the core values of the organization.

  3. Information leaks or rogue employees can cast a negative shadow and hurt a company’s reputation and its bottom line. A mandatory “living the brand” learning experience or workshop can help strengthen company ties and provide employees with a vision to work toward.

  4. Social media can go a long way when it comes to hiring and selection, allowing many employers to review candidates’ social media footprint before they even walk in the door. This is another fertile area to explore with colleagues and clients to ensure they have the right protocols in place in the selection process.

  5. There is also the option of setting expectations with employees at the onset of their careers by weaving in expected behaviors as part of their performance management. In the same way that Ketchum employees are required to take an ethics courses on professional media practices, colleagues and clients could take a similar step with their employees in engaging them in mandatory trainings and reviews that hold everyone accountable and responsible to abiding by best practices.

What do you think? What are the best ways for colleagues and clients to avoid a Weinergate?