Fred Wilkinson, Managing Editor
Fred Wilkinson, Managing Editor

Business is all about relationships, and in the produce trade — which boasts its share of multi-generational family businesses and a close-knit business culture — maintaining relationships is key.

These days it’s easier than ever before to build and nurture relationships, whether business, personal or both.

Thanks to cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, keeping in touch has never been easier — maybe a little too easy sometimes.

Posters warned that “loose lips might sink ships” during World War II, cautioning people that there could be spies waiting to use information for their advantage.

Today loose lips can torpedo your career, damage your brand or sink your business if an ill-considered or even simply misconstrued off-hand thought posted online spreads around the world in no time.

Consider a recent case that made the news concerning an advertising exec who learned the hard way about the perils of making a joke in poor taste on Twitter.

I guess I should say former ad exec.

Justine Sacco was the head of corporate communications for IAC, a media company that operates numerous websites, including and

Before leaving for a December trip to Cape Town, South Africa, she updated her Twitter feed by tweeting, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

While it’s never a good time to broadcast what many would read as a racially insensitive crack about people suffering from a dreadful, incurable illness to all your friends and business associates, Sacco’s timing was particularly bad.

Sitting on a plane, unplugged from her social media accounts and unable to delete or attempt to explain her tweet, she sat unaware of outrage brewing online.

Once the social media sphere blew up with the story, broadcast, cable and print news organizations picked up the story too.

The results from the notorious tweet should come as no surprise. Sacco was fired and publicly apologized, and according to news reports described her joke as “cavalier” and “insensitive.”

It’s bewildering that a public relations pro who built a career around communicating with others in the media and carefully crafting a favorable public image for clients would cause such damage to her professional reputation and career through her unfortunate — or maybe just stupid — lapse of judgment.

By its nature, social media holds promise and pitfalls for business, It also tends to reward outrageous or even offensive comments that are more likely to generate responses.

While personal on one level, tweets and Facebook updates are far different than face-to-face interactions or conversation, where tone of voice and body language often add context and nuance to comments.

I seriously doubt Sacco intended to be hurtful or insensitive, and if she’d made a similar joke to close friends over lunch rather than to everyone following her on Twitter it’s unlikely she’d be in the market for a new job.

Watch your words

The case provides a cautionary tale about how people’s personal and business lives can overlap in real life and online.

Many users of sites such Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (myself included) count among their “friends” people they may have only met once at a convention, or maybe your “friendship” involves nothing more than having some colleagues or acquaintances in common. That’s OK. Broadcasting yourself to a wider audience is an appealing aspect of such sites.

But while putting yourself out there is easier than ever, sound judgment about how you conduct your business — whether professional or personal or both — has never been more important.

Maybe it’s wise simply to keep in mind John Wayne’s advice, “Talk low, talk slow, don’t say too much.”

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.