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Employees & Your Brand: How to Reduce the Risk of Reputation Nightmares

heseltine-simon
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George Carlin

Do you know what your employees are saying about you and your company online? Do you have a clear social media policy? Do you do any form of social training for your employees? Do you monitor to see what they're saying?

Do you have any idea how your employees are representing your company on social networks? Do you know how to respond when you encounter an employee created social media problem?

If the answer to any of the questions above is no, then read on.

Unfortunately the chances are that you have at least one employee with a common sense deficiency. Now in most cases that won't be your director of corporate communications, typically the person tasked with fixing issues that impact the reputation of the corporation, but in the recent case of the now former IAC employee Justine Sacco, that was exactly what happened. Heading on a trip to South Africa in December she tweeted the following.

Justine Sacco tweet

Whatever her intent was, including the text "just kidding" in her tweet didn't make it a joke in the eyes of many people, instead it created an online furor that ended with her seeking new employmentfairly shortly after her plane landed in South Africa.

Sacco is far from being the first employee looking for a new position as a result of social media, nor will she be the last. From the lacoste salesman fired for Instagramming a picture of his paycheck, to the school teacher fired for tweetingpictures of her partaking of certain substances and in a state of partial undress.

A search of Instagram shows the general dissatisfaction that a number of people have with their current jobs, through some of the hashtags in frequent use:

  • #boredatwork 312,631
  • #ihatemyjob 37,857
  • #hatemyjob 30,852
  • #myjobsucks 5,389
  • #ihatemyboss 1,318
  • #hatemyboss 1,078

Does this really matter if they're not naming your company? Is there really any harm? Well, yes.

Other employees are most likely friends, and seeing such posts may impact their morale negatively. If clients know your employees they may well do a search and find these posts or befriend them on social networks and see them directly in their feed, which may impact their future interactions with your firm.

Foodland Hell post

What about if your employees are foolish enough to actually name your company in their posts? Suddenly people searching for "Foodland" may come across this picture that describes the company as "Hell". Hardly a positive employee testimonial.

What about when your employee tweets that they want to do something illegal?

Sunith Baheerathan tweet

Or threatens violence?

Rebecca Ness tweet

Or says something patently offensive?

Pax Dickinson tweet

Or tweets a racist picture?

Steven Taylor racist tweet

Obviously none of those situations are acceptable, and you need to ensure that you have several things in place before any of these happen to give you the best opportunity to address the situation in the most appropriate manner.

The Social Media Policy

You need to have a social media policy. This policy can be as formal as you'd like, detailing acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and spelling out punishments and penalties for transgressions. Or alternatively it can be short and to the point along the lines of "Don't be stupid" a la The New York Times.

Also, make sure that all of your employees are aware of said policy. Give training where applicable, and talk to them about what doing something stupid could mean for them and the company.

Basically help your employees understand that whatever they put online, whether they believe it to be protected or private, isn't. Let them know that any one of their "friends" can screenshot a protected tweet, a private Facebook post, or a SnapChat message and share it with a wider audience than they intended.

You should also have, as a part of this, a disaster plan. Should an employee come across a potential issue they should know how to respond, or whether they need to escalate it, and who they should be passing it up to, to formulate the company response.

Make sure to involve your legal team in the drafting of this document to ensure that it obeys the letter of the law in your locality.

Monitoring

You need then need to find out what's being said as soon as possible. It isn't going to be feasible for you to monitor the various feeds of each and every employee on each and every network. But what you should be doing, as a matter of course, is monitoring your brand terms.

Typically if there's something involving your brand people will start tweeting @ your company handle, hashtagging your brand, or posting notes of disgust to your Facebook page.

You need to make sure that you have some mechanism in place that allows someone at your company to identify when there's a potential reputation management issue. At the very least, during your regular company operating hours (note to airlines, your planes fly outside of 9-5, so you should probably monitor outside of those hours).

The Response

Each situation is different, so you want to analyze the current state of affairs, and determine whether things have been taken out of context, or whether there truly is an issue that needs to be addressed. You then need to get ahead of it as soon as possible as there will generally be an article or three written on the usual online sites.

Be as open and honest as possible. Explain the situation as best as you can at that point, let your customers / those offended know the steps that you're taking to rectify the situation. Whether that's a simple apology, all the way up to the termination of the offending employee.

Don't feel though that you have to offer the final response at Internet speed. Just a simple "This situation is unacceptable and does not reflect the beliefs of our company, an internal investigation is underway" lets people know that you're taking it seriously while not necessarily rushing to the finish line without due consideration for the facts.

The Post Mortem

After the dust has settled, go back and review the situation.

Did the operating procedures that you had in place work? Were there disconnects? Could the situation have been handled better? Were conclusions unfairly jumped to in order to provide that quick response?

Take what you learn from this situation and use it to evolve your social media policy/training.

Final Thoughts

Just remember that the genie is out of the bottle. In most cases you can't stop your employees from using social media, it's a part of many people's everyday lives these days.

What you can do is make your employees think about what they're doing when they're communicating on a mass scale with people. If they understand that their actions can have a detrimental effect on the company, and perhaps their position within the company, then they'll think again about posting something that may do so.


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