Social Media and Your Staff

Barbara Weltman

What your employees say about your company on their own time can backfire on you. What can you do? Be proactive in educating your staff about the boundaries of social media.

In mid-March of this year, Chrysler said it would not renew the contract with its advertising agency because of a Twitter comment made by the agency's employee about drivers in Detroit. The agency fired the employee, deleted the comment, and posted regrets; this did not appease Chrysler. If you don't want adverse actions against your company and brand, be deliberate in creating and enforcing social media policy.

Create your company's media policy
It's up to you to set the policy for your employees to follow. Troy Janisch, Social Media Manager of American Family Insurance, which has more than 8,000 employees enrolled in its social medial activities and more than 2,200 Facebook pages, says the company's social media policy should state the proper conduct for employees. Janisch says, "You need to be proactive, and appropriate social media roles for everyone in your company. If you don't do that, they determine what their role is on their own." Advise your staff that:

  • They are not to divulge confidential information. (Industries with special confidentiality issues, such as medical practices and law firms, should take extra care to ensure that employees do not violate client confidentiality.)
  • Their own private social media actions do not stop at the company's doorstep; they continue to be associated with and play a role in enhancing the company's brand on the web when they are offsite.
  • They should limit their company time spent on social medial activities to the same extent that they would limit their telephone time on personal calls.
  • They are to take specific action with respect to posts they read about the company. For example, American Family's policy is for employees never to respond online to negative comments about the company; they are to inform specified corporate personnel who handle these comments. In contrast, when employees learn of positive comments about the company, they are encouraged to share them.

Educate staff about social media
In a country founded on free speech, it may seem un-American to restrict what employees say, especially in their personal time. However, employees may not appreciate the ramifications of their posts on social media sites -- either on company time or their own. Discuss your company's policy with your staff to make sure they understand all the terms and conditions that apply to employees.

The company should also provide mentoring to help employees learn the best way to use social media to advance the company's brand. This can include educational sessions and/or providing content to help employees get started.

Company action following a bad posting
What should the company do if an employee makes a regrettable post? Most experts agree that the advertising agency took appropriate steps, even though it didn't help in retaining Chrysler, their client:

  • Delete the posting as soon as possible.
  • Take action against the employee in conformance with the company's social media policy. In the case of the agency, this was termination.
  • Post apologies for any offense taken from the original posting.

Barbara Weltman, author of several books including her most recent, 1001 Deductions & Tax Breaks 2009
Copyright 2011 Author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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