What Bernard Berrian’s Twitter Exploits Can Teach Us About the Importance of Social Media Policies

I’ve written several articles and given presentations about legal issues involved with social media in the past few years, and I always stress the importance of companies having a social media policy for its employees. The reasons for doing so are not just legal (i.e., concerns over defamation, use of company time, etc.). The more important justification of regulation of employees’ social media activities relates to the company’s brand; in other words, how the employees’ actions reflect upon the company.

A recent Twitter exchange involving a member of the Minnesota Vikings and a Minnesota state legislator is a perfect example of the latter point.

Here’s the background: Bernard Berrian is a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, and to say that Berrian has had a few off years is quite the understatement. Berrian is also extremely active on Twitter under his handle “@B_Twice”. Representative John Kriesel is a freshman legislator from Cottage Grove. Kriesel is one of the co-sponsors of legislation to fund a new football stadium for the Vikings, but he is most known for his service in the Minnesota National Guard, including a tour of duty in Iraq where he lost his legs in an IED explosion. Representative Kriesel has also been a frequent guest prior to his days as a legislator on the local sports talk station KFAN; hence his tweets invariably involve Minnesota sports.

On October 2, after a fourth consecutive Vikings loss (this time to previously winless Kansas City), Berrian tweeted something about being open on almost every play. That’s where the fight began.

Shortly thereafter, Representative Kriesel tweeted the following:

“If you want to follow a hilarious twitter account, try @B_Twice (Bernard Berrian) who says that he’s open a lot and should get the ball more.”

Did Berrian ignore the snarky comment? Nope. Instead, he fired back:

“@johnkriesel Anytime u wanna watch the film with me. Not just one game but all of them. And if not sit down n shut up!!”

Upon being told by others via Twitter that Kriesel was a double amputee and war veteran, Berrian did nothing to apologize or back down from his comments.

The next day, and by the time Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier held his traditional Monday afternoon press conference, the Berrian-Kriesel feud was in full boil. One headline read “Bernard Berrian to Amputee War Hero John Kriesel: “Sit Down and Shut Up.” Coach Frazier was asked to address the controversy and informed those in attendance that Berrian had called Kriesel to apologize. I’m quite confident that Berrian was ordered to apologize by either Leslie Frazier and/or team owner Zygi Wilf in part because of Representative Kriesel’s role in carrying the water on the Vikings’ stadium bill.

At a time when the Minnesota Vikings are seeking a state contribution to a new stadium in the midst of tough fiscal times at the Capitol, and especially considering the Vikings’ notorious record of arrests and other embarrassing moments, the team could ill afford a Twitter dustup between an underperforming wide receiver and an elected official upon which it is counting to support the stadium plan.

The Berrian-Kriesel feud is a very public example of the types of negative exchanges that have been enabled in large part due to social media. I’ve witnessed other arguments play out among Twitter and Facebook users, and they only serve to strengthen my conviction that companies who fail to set guidelines for what their employees can say online if they are identifying themselves with their employer open themselves up to a loss of business because of their employees’ actions. Far from being just a legal issue, social media policies are just as important from a marketing perspective.