Ordinary Joes, footballers and even members of the clergy have all got themselves in hot water when making comments on Social Media sites. Twitter is on course to have 200 million users by the end of 2010. There are currently over 50 million tweets of 140 characters or less each day. However, as multinational corporations, advertisers and members of the public embrace this service, a note of caution should be sounded. Paul Chambers’ lawyers are currently preparing an appeal following his conviction for “menace”, after he tweeted “Cr*p! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh*t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”. Paul has maintained this tweet was simply a joke but to date this ‘joke’ has led to a criminal conviction, with fines and costs of approximately £3,000 (or around £22 per character). Footballer Darren Bent landed himself with a fine of £80,000 from his then employer Tottenham Hotspur FC by posting a tweet directed at the club’s chairman to “stop f**king around” regarding his transfer to another club.

However, social media faux pas are not just confined to Twitter. A Church of England Bishop was suspended recently and forced to apologise for making disparaging remarks about the impending Royal nuptials on his Facebook account. The Rt Rev Pete Broadhurst posted comments chastising the “nauseating tosh” surrounding the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s forthcoming nuptials. He also referred to the couple as “shallow celebrities”, complained the Royal Family was surrounded by “broken marriages and philanderers” and compared the marriage between Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana as a “disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll”. The Bishop has since issued an apology expressing his “sincere regrets for the distress caused” by his remarks and was suspended from his post.

These events demonstrate the risks for companies with a presence online. Companies simply must have a detailed social media policy in place and train their staff in order to prevent their employees making damaging comments about the brand. An applauded example of a Social Media policy can be found here, but beware, even this did not prevent one of the biggest online reputational scandals of recent years.