Personal, work life overlap with social media

For the London Free Press - August 23, 2010 Read this on Canoe

Best Buy employee nearly fired for online video poking fun at iPhone consumers

The amusing (though sprinkled with colourful language) iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO video on YouTube almost cost the creator -- a Best Buy employee -- his job.

The video portrays an electronics store employee trying to convince a person wanting an iPhone 4 to buy an HTC EVO 4G instead. The video has had about seven million views.

The video was made by Brian Maupin, a 25-year-old from Kansas City, Mo. For the past 3 1/2 years he worked at Best Buy selling mobile phones, something he may decide never to do again. This comes after he was suspended from work and faced threats of being fired.

Maupin explained Best Buy "felt it disparaged a brand they carried (iPhone/Apple) as well as the store itself and were fearful of stockholders and customers being turned off to Best Buy Mobile."

But if you watch the video, you will see there isn't any mention of Best Buy at all. The cartoon employee identifies the store as "Phone Mart." The characters are not wearing anything that resembles the Best Buy uniform and are standing in an outdoor field with a pink tree.

Best Buy recently announced they will not fire Maupin.

"We have completed our investigation into the videos created and posted by Brian Maupin, the aspiring film-maker and Best Buy employee. This is an important situation for us because it involved balancing our social media guidelines with a commitment to creating a supportive environment for our employees. It's important to note that our investigation involved three videos that were posted in late June because they were openly disparaging of our employees, our customers and our vendor partners. . . . Contrary to rumours, Brian has not been fired, and is scheduled to return to his job."

But Maupin has chosen to take a leave of absence and is thinking about kick starting his graphic design career.

"I'm not planning on returning to work -- immediately, anyway. Honestly, I don't know how I could return considering some of the things that were said to me and not have a lot of awkwardness on the job. I'm looking at possible jobs in graphic art -- nothing definite yet, but I'm searching."

Maupin has taken a stab at the situation in his most recent video, "TweetFired".

In TweetFired, a pants salesman at fictitious "Stacks o' Slacks" gets a stern talking to by his boss because of the tweets he posts on his Twitter account -- tweets that have absolutely nothing to do with his job. His boss has apparently been stalking him on social media, and accuses him of "painting a very negative picture of working here in 140 characters or less."

Internet tools and social media increasingly blur how one's personal and work life overlap. Employers struggle with the extent to which they may be prejudiced by those actions, whether they should just ignore it, and what legal rights they have over actions employees consider personal.