The Des Moines Register reports that in the past year alone, businesses have fired several workers for posting objectionable material to social networking websites. The latest incident involves a Casey’s General Stores employee the company fired for posting material to YouTube. What is and what is not “objectionable” online is in the eye of the particular online surfer. Postings, like the posting by the erstwhile Casey’s employee, which may seem tame by the particular social network community standards, may not fit within the parameters of the online corporate image the employer wants to portray. Although a company’s knee-jerk reaction may be to fire the social network savvy employee, rash action can make the problem worse. In the case of the Casey’s employee, the fired the employee posted a much more incendiary video to YouTube decrying what she felt was unfair treatment at the hands of her employer. While the repercussions of employees posting objectionable content online may be problematic, mishandling of the matter frequently causes otherwise minor problems to snowball out of control. The key to managing a corporate online presences in the face of employee social networking includes putting a plan in place before a problem arises.
Understanding social networks is the critical first step. Not everything employees post online about your company is bad. Learn how proactive social networking can not only help identify potential public relations issues early, but can also promote your company. Get a handle on social networking and develop an employee policy regarding online activities as they relate to your company. Most employees are willing to refrain from certain online activities if you let them know the rules, in writing, up front. Reprimanding employees after the fact merely fosters ill will regarding the company and its failure to grasp social networking.
Start the discussion with your employees. Open communication will identify employees with a natural inclination toward online public relations. Enlist these individuals to monitor social networks and advise your of any potential threats or opportunities they find. Start slowly at first. Be prepared to stumble. Running social networking point for your company is not for the online-illiterate. Even a social media maven requires weeks or months to find your company’s social media “voice.”
In creating a written online activity policy for your employees’ solicit their input. Maintain an open line of communication with the most media savvy of your employees. Avoid blindsiding employees over things they might have done before you took the reins. Reprimanding them for things they believed were actually helping the company is a lose-lose scenario. Rash repercussions may easily direct all of your employee’s social media moxy toward destroying your company’s online reputation.