The Blurred Lines Between Professional and Private Social Media

Here's how to protect your brand's image when everyone has a stage.

President Trump tweets a controversial message, launching a key employee into an unbridled rage. The person returns fire on social media with a barrage of emotionally charged remarks. In the process, the tirade is played out before a select audience that includes your most valued customers, partners and prospects.

The social platform the employee used as a political megaphone was personal and technically private. But over time the employee had socially connected to many of your company’s key influencers. What do you do? What can you do?

Some businesses have begun reprimanding, and in rare instances, firing employees who don’t appropriately represent their company online. In an age of social media, employees are never really off the clock—especially when they’re socially linked to critical stakeholders.

As a preventative step, many businesses are adopting social media policies that reach well beyond the company’s own platforms and restrict employees from posting “inappropriate” content on their personal pages. This can include subjects such as political and religious views that might be considered offensive.

The NFL this year surprised many people when it took a similar stance by prohibiting players from protesting during the National Anthem. The decision made headlines, but it fell in line with how many employers now view personal conduct, regardless of place or time.

Putting a policy in place sends a clear message that employees represent their company’s brand 24/7. Their conduct, words and actions are expected to uphold the values of the organization. And while legally defining what is “offensive” is a task worse than herding cats, a written policy causes many employees to think twice before raging online.

The policy should include guidance about how the company’s own social channels are managed. This includes details about the logo and messaging, down to specific colors, design styles and imagery. It can include post frequency, relevance and objectives.

The policy should be clear about who has authority to make posts, comment and respond, especially to controversial remarks. When United Airlines discovers a negative tweet about its brand, the company has very specific protocols about how a complaint is managed.

When a customer complains online, the first step should be to take the conversation offline and resolve the issue away from a large viewing audience. Then, handle the customer as if they called. The policy should prohibit employees who are not involved with this process to abstain from any engagement, so the professionals can handle it.

Many consumers today have become empowered through social media to expose businesses for their bad behavior. In many ways, the new environment has forced companies to improve their service, while some consumers have found ways to take unfair advantage.    

  

Your company’s social media policy should be all-inclusive, with consideration to any influence, inside or outside of the organization. It should address how employees can interact with the brand online and how they conduct themselves on their “own time.”

The policy should address how social media is managed during a crisis, who is in charge and how the social managers interact with communications teams and senior management.

No company policy is ironclad in the eyes of the law, but many can prevent mistakes and clear confusion among employees. Attorneys and public relations firms can help draft social media policies to fit your organizational needs. When a policy is finalized, it should be presented effectively throughout the entire organization.     

A strong brand can take decades to build, but even the best brands can come undone in a single day. Don’t let a loose social media policy unravel years of hard work.      

Jamie Pingor is a partner and intellectual property chair at the Cleveland law firm, Walter ǀ Haverfield. He is focused on intellectual property with a specialty on domestic and foreign patent and trademark preparation, prosecution, procurement and litigation.

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  • Next up: The Importance of Knowing Your Business Partners
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  • The Importance of Knowing Your Business Partners

    Going global can be a great thing for your small business, but it doesn’t come without pitfalls—specifically, working with outside partners. Read on for a list of things you should know before you take your company beyond U.S. borders.

    Working with outside suppliers, sales agents, joint venture partners and subsidiaries can serve to expand and grow your business but, when working internationally, they might also expose your organization to civil or criminal violations. When doing business globally, it is important to know your business partners and put processes in place to avoid running afoul of certain U.S. laws surrounding trade sanctions, export compliance and ethical supply chain requirements like human trafficking. 

    The U.S. federal government restricts doing business or engaging in financial transactions with certain countries, organizations and individuals. Given the changing geopolitical environment, the list of sanctioned countries, organizations and individuals is constantly changing. The federal government also regulates the export of certain products and services that have a military use or may be used for military purposes. The U.S. and other countries also prohibit doing work with organizations that engage in human trafficking or buy minerals from regions where regimes engage in inhumane treatment of workers. Businesses that operate internationally and that have products or services that are regulated must have controls in place to assure compliance with these trade regulations. 

    These laws and regulations are challenging and the repercussions of non-compliance could result in civil or criminal sanctions. Ignorance of the law is no legal defense—a business or individual does not have to plan or intend to violate these requirements to be held liable. A business must understand how it delivers its products and services to market, how it gets paid and with whom it does business. 

    Some things a legal professional can assist you with when you go global include:

    • developing and implementing compliance and risk management programs; 

    • counsel on prohibited activities (e.g., business with Syria, selling certain services or goods to prohibited parties, purchasing supplies from prohibited parties);

    • government investigation and enforcement;

    • internal investigations; 

    • establishing a risk based third party due diligence program;

    • enhancing contracts to direct your business partners to engage in legal and ethical operations;

    • identifying and mitigating red flags that may indicate illegal behavior;

    • developing policies and procedures to mitigate the risks of trade or export violations as well as to comply with ethical supply chain mandates like anti-human trafficking laws.

    Failing to know your business partners might expose a legitimate and reputable business to accusations of doing business with terrorist organizations, sanctioned countries or human traffickers. Cassidy Law has experience helping clients avoid these common pitfalls.

    Maragret Cassidy is principal at Cassidy Law. Learn more about the firm’s capabilities by clicking here.


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  • Next up: The Top 10 Workplace Etiquette Rules
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  • The Top 10 Workplace Etiquette Rules

    Here are 10 things you should do (or stop doing) to stay on the good side of your coworkers.

    Workplace etiquette is defined by dictionary.com as the code of ethical behavior regarding professional practice or action among the members of a profession in their dealings with each other.

    In other words, it’s acting like you were born with, or taught, common sense.

    Read on below for the 10 things you should do (or start doing) to avoid raising the ire of your colleagues and show that you do have some common sense as it relates to workplace etiquette.

    No. 10: Don’t come to work sick. If you have a communicable illness, you shouldn’t be at the office! Stay home!

    No 9:  At all costs, avoid being late. If you happen to have a delay, communicate with your supervisor ahead of time. For every minute you think you’ll be late, give two minutes warning.

     No. 8: Pay attention in meetings. If you are in training or a meeting please pay attention to the speaker. Put your phones away and don’t have side conversations with your neighbor.

    No. 7.: Remember your boundaries while at work. Developing friendships at work is expected but remember you are at work and you should be careful about sharing personal information.

    No. 6.: Watch what you put on social media. Depending on your company’s policy, you should be careful about the things you post on social media. The thinking that, “This is my page and I can do what I want,” is, in most cases, not true and you could be disciplined for your actions.

    No. 5. Emails can be misconstrued. When responding to an e-mail, be careful of your “tone.” It is easy to offend someone without meaning to. Also, be careful that you are not “replying to all” and sharing something with someone you shouldn’t. 

    No. 4: Please clean up after yourself! Most people spend just as much time at work as they do home, so it is everyone’s job to make sure that the office is not nasty. If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen, please make sure that you clean your dishes and wipe out the microwave after you use it.

    No. 3: Be courteous. If you pour the last cup of coffee, you should make a fresh pot. Enough said!

    No. 2.: Respect your co-worker’s privacy. You should always knock before entering a co-worker’s office or work area. Never read an e-mail, note, or fax that is not addressed to you.

    No. 1.: Freedom of Speech … just watch what you say.  Although we all have the right to our opinions, we need to be wary about the things we say while at work.  Don’t use profanity and always be careful when speaking about religious beliefs and political views.

    Rico Perez is a partner and VP of Training & Development at BIG-HR. He has over 8 years of experience in HR-related training & management.


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  • Next up: This is What Sets COSE's New Health Benefit Option Apart
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  • This is What Sets COSE's New Health Benefit Option Apart

    Learn how the COSE Health and Wellness Trust is different from COSE's current health benefit option.


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  • Next up: To SHOP or not to SHOP?
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  • To SHOP or not to SHOP?

    While there has been no official word out of Washington, media reports say Ohio will be among the first five states where small business owners can shop for health insurance through the federal government’s online marketplace for small employers.

    While there has been no official word out of Washington, media reports say Ohio will be among the first five states where small business owners can shop for health insurance through the federal government’s online marketplace for small employers.

    The controlled roll-out in late October of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace is meant to help minimize the deluge of problems that occurred when the government introduced its health insurance exchange for individuals. The hope is that opening the marketplace to a limited number of states will give the Department of Health and Human Services time to fix glitches before Nov. 15; that’s when small employers in the other states that chose not to create their own health insurance exchanges can access the SHOP Marketplace portal of HealthCare.gov.

    For small employers in Ohio, the imminent opening of the federal health insurance exchange about a year after its planned introduction begs the question, “Is the SHOP Marketplace right for my business?”

    It isn’t a question with a clear-cut answer. However, it doesn’t hurt to be armed with information about the program as you ponder whether to SHOP, or not to SHOP.

    From COSE’s perspective, it’s important for small business owners to look before leaping – especially if you are already providing insurance under other group plans such as those offered by Medical Mutual through COSE.

    One thing to take note of when evaluating this decision for your business is the tax credits. While some small businesses will be eligible for them when purchasing insurance via the SHOP, many will not qualify for this relief. It’s important that you clearly understand the parameters around the tax credits – and whether or not you fit into them.

    It quickly is apparent upon a visit to HealthCare.gov that the tax credits are not available to everyone who buys coverage via SHOP.

    Though the SHOP Marketplace is open to employers with 50 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees, only employers with fewer than 25 FTEs are among those eligible for the credits. But not even all these employers qualify for the credits.

    For starters, the employees of a business with fewer than 25 FTEs must make an average of about $50,000 a year or less. Also, an employer must pay at least 50% of the premium costs of his or her full-time employees to qualify for the tax credit, which is worth a maximum of 50% of the employer’s contribution toward the premium costs under a sliding scale.

    HealthCare.gov said the tax credit is highest for companies with fewer than 10 employees who are paid an average of $25,000 a year or less. But even then, the credits only are available to eligible employers for two consecutive years.

    Based on what we’ve seen, unless you qualify for a tax credit, employers can generally do as well or better with their current small group plans and their current carrier outside of the SHOP because SHOP rates seem to be adjusted to reflect perceived additional risk in those plans and additional fees are being charged to support the exchanges.

    Another reason for small employers to think carefully before switching to SHOP is the potential for confusion among your employees.

    A small business that chooses a group policy for all of its employees in the traditional market can help its employees more because it can reach out to the carrier and get questions resolved on the part of its people. However, under SHOP, a small company’s employees can select from any carrier that is part of the marketplace in their area. Consequently, the employees could all end up with different coverage, and employers certainly will face challenges in addressing employees’ questions and concerns.  Employees will be in charge of resolving the issues on their own behalf with the service team of the selected carrier.

    But perhaps the biggest reason to proceed with caution is because some small employers with existing group plans can choose to stay in those plans through 2016 – and once they leave those plans, they won’t be able to go back to a non-Affordable Care Act option. Considering how changeable SHOP has been to this point, employers might want to think about maintaining status quo until the marketplace settles down

    At some point, the SHOP might be the best route for employers who want to relieve themselves of the responsibility to help employees select benefits, while still providing some contribution to fund their benefits. However, more and more small employers are understanding that even with the headaches that sometimes come with insurance benefits, actively offering these benefits is a strong tool to attracting and retaining talent, which is becoming much harder and a more strategic business issue.


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  • Next up: Tri-C Focuses on Key Employment Areas
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  • Tri-C Focuses on Key Employment Areas

    William Gary has heard a familiar refrain from employers in the year he has served as executive vice president, workforce development division, at Cuyahoga Community College. “They are saying, ‘We need qualified individuals now,’” he said during an August 14 meeting of COSE’s Advocacy Committee. “We need skill sets that will help build our bottom lines now.” Tri-C is working to address those concerns. Ohio’s first community college is refocusing on key areas that are expected to be areas of employment growth going forward: information technology, healthcare, professional services, public safety and advanced manufacturing. 

    William Gary has heard a familiar refrain from employers in the year he has served as executive vice president, workforce development division, at Cuyahoga Community College.

    “They are saying, ‘We need qualified individuals now,’” he said during an August 14 meeting of COSE’s Advocacy Committee. “We need skill sets that will help build our bottom lines now.”

    Tri-C is working to address those concerns. Ohio’s first community college is refocusing on key areas that are expected to be areas of employment growth going forward: information technology, healthcare, professional services, public safety and advanced manufacturing. 

    “These are the sectors that drive the Northeast Ohio economy,” he said, adding the college’s executives do not want to train students for jobs that might be in short supply in the future.

    One example of Tri-C’s renewed focus was seen earlier this summer when it held the first 3-D manufacturing conference in Ohio, which was attended by more than 300 people. The conference featured a wide variety of computer-printed goods, including a car.

    “That’s where technology is moving and in order for us to prepare to potentially support this technology, we have to make sure our programming is state of the art,” he said.

    Tri-C is helping students understand the skills they are going to need to be successful in the evolving economy. Gary also discussed the college’s “Right Skills Now” program with Swagelok, in which students are taught the skills they need to know in order to get a job with Swagelok. The program participants are guaranteed employment with Swagelok upon completing the program.

    “We’re helping students get placed in your jobs,” he said. “We’re helping individuals understand the soft skills they need that really contribute to the success of all of us.”


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