Social Media Postings Can Be a Minefield
The advent of social media has changed how companies interact with their employees, customers, and colleagues. Changes have been mostly welcome, opening up market channels and leveling the field for small- and mid-size businesses, who now have access to the same platforms as larger enterprises. Businesses can introduce new products, make timely announcements, and target their marketing efficiently and often at a lower cost. However, the fast-paced nature of social media can be a minefield for the unprepared. Here are examples of common ways that businesses can be blindsided by social media postings, along with some best practices on handling them.
The disgruntled ex-employee now has a public megaphone to air grievances, justified or not. If a post is clearly a rant, a company may do nothing and hope that third parties will recognize the vent for what it is. If a post has false or defamatory information, management may post a short targeted response. Responding carries the risk of bringing additional attention to the original post and carrying on a public conversation about internal issues. So a company’s response should be carefully crafted to be factual, limited to the issues raised, and professional in tone. If a post includes incendiary statements, or if it discloses proprietary company or client information, a company can have the post removed. Platforms such as LinkedIn make it easier to do so, although almost all have a process for reporting a post or having one reviewed for inappropriate content. Companies can also demand that the employee cease publishing false, confidential, or defamatory statements. Note that certain types of employee speech and activity are protected by the National Labor Relations Board, including discussions between employees about the terms and conditions of employment, and management must be careful not to illegally stifle that protected speech.
The socially active employee might post his/her inappropriate, unprofessional, or worse, illegal behavior, which can immediately affect a company’s brand. Google the name of any fast food franchise with “employee posts” after the name, and a variety of posts will appear on employees in compromising positions with a company’s products or on the job. Viral posts like these can quickly cause long term damage to any brand. Companies can definitely control what employees do or post during business hours and can also regulate any postings about the company and its customers. Off-hours conduct is more complicated to regulate. At a minimum, companies should institute policies to make sure employees don’t talk about the company, its clients, or other sensitive information on any public forum, without company consent. Employee handbooks and personnel policies should include restrictions on social media activity that aligns with the company’s business needs. Businesses should also provide proactive employee training on how their off-duty conduct and postings can impact a company’s image and brand even if it is unrelated to the company or their day jobs.
An unhappy customer or supplier might use the company’s own social media pages to air their complaints. Companies must closely monitor activity, known as “social listening,” and respond in real time to negative posts. Most platforms allow the owner of the page to edit or remove posts, but it is better to respond rather than delete, to address the concerns that have been raised. As with ex-employees, responses should be made as quickly as possible, and be short, accurate, and professional. A sincere apology or offer to handle a problem can go a long way in diffusing a difficult situation. Keeping up with social media activity about your company may require the services of a public relations firm or dedicated employee who has been given the authority to respond without a long approval process.
Social media has shifted the landscape of communications, giving us all the ability to be in close and constant contact with our stakeholders—but there are daily examples of how businesses have mishandled or ignored a social media issue, to their detriment. Each business must have a strategy to address the various problems that can arise online before they cause irreparable damage to its reputation.
Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB Law (www.kppblaw.com).
Sonjui L. Kumar is a founding partner of KPPB Law, practicing in the area of corporate law and governance.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.
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