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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  • 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.

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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 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.

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    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.

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    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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  • 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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  • Tips for Small Businesses Struggling to Hire Post-Pandemic

    Watch the recent webinar presented by Ahola.

    A recent webinar presented by Ahola Payroll & HR Solutions and COSE covered the struggles small businesses are having hiring employees post-pandemic, with input from three small business leaders from Northeast Ohio.

    Watch the recording now:


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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

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    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.

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

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