Vistage members are well aware of how useful social media can be as a way of connecting with colleagues, partners and customers. It is also worth bearing in mind the damage that can be done when negative information starts to roam freely on the Internet’s highways and byways. The very connectivity that makes social media so powerful also means that it can be very destructive.
It is all very well having a clearly defined social media strategy to communicate your brand messaging. It is also advisable to have plans in place to effectively deal with customer complaints. But how do you cope when the bad news is coming from within your own organisation?
Two recent stories illustrate the dangers perfectly. Recently Reddit asked fast food workers which menu item they would never choose whether it be for cooking safety, cleanliness or health. As you might guess, they were inundated with stories from disgruntled or simply thoughtless employees who may not have been fully aware of the damage that they were inflicting. Spokespeople from the companies involved stoically set about refuting the most scurrilous stories and vowing to look into the more likely ones. Of course, the damage was already done with newspapers gleefully picking up on the tales.
On a similar note, pictures surfaced recently of a fast food employee who appeared to be standing in containers of chopped lettuce destined for customers. Presumably not the brightest of buttons, the employee posted the pic on 4chan. Outraged fast food fans and Internet sleuths used geotagging info embedded in the picture to track down the guilty party. So far, three employees at the fast food chain have lost their jobs. Not great news for them but an even worse outcome for the chain in question in terms of reputational damage.
The employee-generated stories don’t even have to be about the company to cause trouble. Recently, The Sun ran a story about a Twitter spat in which the pop star Lily Allen accused a Scottish soldier of sending her an allegedly racist tweet. She retaliated by challenging the Army to discipline the soldier. That particular storm has blown over in less than a week but not before it featured on the paper’s front page – uncomfortable reading for the Army, one imagines.
How can companies protect themselves from such ‘friendly fire’? The short answer is that you can’t. At least not comprehensively. However, you can make a good start by setting out a social media code of conduct and ensuring that employees are aware of company policy when it comes to social media. For younger generations who have grown up sharing their personal life online, putting inappropriate or sensitive information about their employers in the public domain may not seem to be any concern. Any social media employee charter doesn’t need to be heavy-handed but it does need to draw clear boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable.
Writing in The Drum, Stephen Robinson of Layton Solicitors looks into the legal implications of employment law and social media abuse.