By Scott Olster
July 30, 2010

Mark Pannell, former operations manager, Home Depot

Let’s get this straight: Simply having a Twitter personality does not make you a good employee. As folks like Tila Tequila have demonstrated, just because you can use social-networking tools doesn’t mean you should. It can be fatal. That’s what Mark Pannell, 35, a veteran operations manager at a Home Depot store in Toledo, says happened in the summer of 2009. After a decade at the retailer, he yearned to be seen as a social- media aficionado, not simply as the “numbers guy” who watched over inventory and the store’s P&L. His personal tweets had earned him 700 followers. So Pannell says he proposed organizing a town hall where customers could come in and offer feedback to Home Depot management. He would send invitations only via social media. Pannell says his boss had no problem with the idea, so he got to work tweeting his followers, many of whom shopped at Home Depot.

Yet an employee’s idea of how he can help the company may clash with the existing culture. Within a few days of his first tweets, Pannell was told by his boss that his Internet use was being investigated and he was put on a paid leave of absence. During that time, he says, a district manager mentioned that he shouldn’t have been tweeting on the company’s behalf. Soon after, he was terminated for inappropriate use of work time; his boss complained that Pannell was at the computer when he should have been on the store floor. Steve Holmes, a spokesman for Home Depot, says, “We’re not aware of any associate ever being terminated for conducting social media on behalf of the company.” Pannell points out that “I would not have put my job at risk with something as silly as playing around on the Internet.” Now working part-time at a coffee shop, he’s yet to come close to replacing his salary. “It’s scary,” he says, sounding chastened. “You have to be careful of what you put out there.”

He is right. Organizational psychologist Lucia Erwin, formerly Hewlett-Packard’s senior director of strategic workforce planning, points out that employees who successfully build their own brands within companies are hyper-aware of workplace values. “If someone wants to use their personal brand to move up in their company, then they need to ensure that the values align,” she says. “How do you figure that out? Look at what behaviors and values are ‘reinforced’ by management through awards, praise, promotions, or compensation.”

By Josh Hyatt, contributor


Building your brand (and keeping your job)

Case study No. 1: Don’t be overeager

Case study No. 2: The brand rehabber

Case study No. 3: Branding, not bragging

Case study No. 4: Edit thyself

Case study No. 5: Be sensitive to changing priorities

The promised brand: How to get there

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