Do you have a social media policy in place? Perhaps more importantly, do you enforce it?
Your brand could be your company’s most valuable asset. Strong brand identity translates into loyal customers, higher sales, employee engagement, and ease of recruitment. A damaged brand identity could mean disaster for your company.
Don’t think social media impacts your company? To date, 81% of Americans have at least one social media profile. Adweek estimates Americans spend over 5 ½ hours per day on social media (how much of that is at the office?), with advertising spending predicted to outpace television in 2017. Your brand could be at risk every time an employee posts something online. But for most employers, the first time they hear about a bad post, it’s too late to act.
Something provocative goes viral and social media is quickly part of the story. The offender’s life becomes public, along with their employer. Companies are pressured to fire staffers whose content is offensive – even if it has nothing to do with the workplace. Worse, companies often take the brunt of an employee’s rant, as viewers look to assign blame:
CBS was deluged with international complaints when a freelance employee tweeted after the Manchester Arena attack to his personal following, “The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too.” Just hours after the tweet went viral, he was terminated.
A Netflix writer posts an ill-advised comment about an upcoming show, causing thousands to cancel their subscriptions to the service.
Even personal posts can quickly go viral. Donning her uniform, a woman posted “At work serving these rude a** white people.” When the post went viral, the firing was fast, but not before many customers said they would not return to the park at which she once worked.
Would a strong social media policy have prevented these employees from posting? Hard to say, but for employers, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound (or many dollars) of cure.
Social media roulette
Too few companies have a social media policy in place, and even fewer bother to enforce them. According to Pew Research, only about half of American companies have a social media policy and most simply prohibit or restrict the use of social media in the workplace. Less than one-third, 32%, has a policy that outlines how employees should present themselves when posting anything on the internet.
Crafting a policy
Creating a social media policy not only has the potential to protect your brand, it offers guidelines and warns employees what is acceptable conduct online, even off-hours. A strong social media policy protects your brand and your employee’s rights. Make sure your policy:
Outlines procedures for airing grievances employees can use before they go to cyberspace. Offer suggestions for employees to discuss their problems with managers or HR before they take to the internet. Be careful not to restrict “concerted activities” outlined below.
Specifically restricts sharing of proprietary or confidential information.
Restricts use of company logos or brand trademarks in a non-approved manner.
Restricts personal social media use during work hours and/or on company devices.
Designates a spokesperson to comment or respond online about anything that could impact the company and its brand.
Encourages employees to be respectful outside the workplace, even in their private conversations, as comments are often re-tweeted or shared.
Warns employees you may periodically monitor any of their social media accounts that are public.
Does not require employees give full access, including passwords or accepting friend requests, to their social media. Some states have outlawed that requirement as an invasion of privacy.
Outlines specific consequences for unprofessional behavior online, including termination.
A day late?
For many employers, the problem is only known once the incident goes viral. In an effort to avoid that trap, 60% of employers prescreen a candidate’s social media profile before extending a job offer, according to CareerBuilder.
Trolling an applicant’s pages could lead you to information that you might not want.
Tread lightly if you choose this option. Trolling an applicant’s pages could lead you to information that you might not want. Finding out an employee is a racist or crack user could be great reasons to exclude them. Finding they have a gravely ill child and excluding them could appear as discrimination.
Third party assistance
Many employee background check companies screen social media pre-hire. Some even offer continuous monitoring of existing employees to assure there will be no impact on your brand. This third-party screening may encourage employees to keep it clean and professional. Additionally, it could steer you clear of personal information that could pose a risk. Carl Johnson of Cleared Match explains what they look for when screening new hires and monitoring existing employees:
“We’re looking for signs of violence, and any activity that may be of concern to the employer, such as making negative and possibly libelous statements. Depending on the employee's responsibilities, such as working with children, we may look for additional factors that impact the employer's risk acceptance.” As a third party, they are able to screen out any information that isn’t germane to the hiring decision.
Naturally, employers will want to use such technology carefully, or at least be wary of how they communicate the existence of such a program. If spoken about poorly, employees could perceive it as creepy.
“We do not report back to the employer on an activity unless it will have a direct impact on the employer's risk acceptance,” he adds.
When bad mouthing the boss is protected
When private posts become public — even if the public is in-house — companies walk a thin line between protecting their brand and infringing on employee rights.
Found out about an employee rant? Take a breath before you terminate. The other side of the social media coin involves the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB has sided with employees when complaining or commenting working conditions or wages online, even if that employee uses coarse language to discuss it. If an employee is ranting to his colleagues about conditions, and they participate in any way, the activity is protected speech.
The NLRB protects “two or more employee’s right to act together to try to improve pay or working conditions.” Talk it out and think before you fire.
Companies like Glassdoor allow employees to vent anonymously — about their boss and company. The impact on employers could be severe. They report 69% of people would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed.
A social media policy that requests (not requires) employees come to the appropriate in-house personnel to air, and hopefully resolve, grievances could avert the rants that impact your ability to hire top talent. But in this day and age, employers also need to respect external forms of feedback that employees will use. Google, for example, made news when their "Yes, at Google" employee-run email list documenting bad behavior was discovered.
With so much potential exposure for employers, the need for a strong social media policy is real. A social media policy that is fair, clear, and understood by all employees should be on every employer’s to-do list.