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.