Social media has fast become ingrained in our society and presents a major opportunity for businesses of all types. But it can also present a public relations and human resources nightmare. With websites like Twitter growing rapidly in popularity and Facebook nearing almost a billion users, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see why. Recently, there has been much news about social media getting people in trouble at work and in the public eye. From politicians losing their positions in office, to businesses firing both upper management and employees for “inappropriate tweets,” it’s clear that a social media policy for businesses is becoming a required element of any effective set of HR solutions.
Let’s examine the latest example of social media use gone bad. On May 14, 2012, Francesca Holdings announced that its chief financial officer, Gene Morphis was fired for cause. The statement came after it was revealed that the 63-year-old executive had “improperly communicated company information through social media.” The specific tweet that caused his termination is up for debate, but some have speculated that his missive reading, “Dinner w/Board tonite. Used to be fun. Now one must be on guard every second.” may have gotten some unwanted attention from the company’s executives.
It turns out Morphis (@theoldcfo) had been inappropriately tweeting company information for some time now. Past tweets disclose information regarding private meetings with potential clients and references to the company’s “good numbers.” On March 7, Morphis tweeted “Good numbers=Happy board,” a week before the release of earnings scheduled for March 13. The tweet boosted Francesca’s stock price, which grew 15 percent the week prior to the company’s earnings release.
This is not the first case of executives being fired as a result of improper use of social media, but it is an eye-opening lesson to companies who currently have no social media policy in place. Your employees know the proper use of a telephone and appropriate email code, why should the protocol for social media be any different? Social media can help consumers engage with your company, offering a platform for easy sharing and community building. But it can also help craft a business’s branding and message. Here are some things to keep in mind when your human resources department creates a social media policy.
Every employee is a brand ambassador
Having your human resources consultants or departments create a social media policy takes the guesswork out of what is suitable on various social media platforms. Employees should remember that what they say on their personal Twitter or Facebook accounts can reflect accordingly on their employer. It’s no secret that social media can do wonders for a company, but tweeting or sharing something that is deemed inappropriate can collapse a company’s reputation in seconds. Remember the Domino’s Pizza employees who thought it would be funny to post videos of themselves seriously violating health codes on YouTube? Incidents like that can have lasting and damaging effects for a brand. A good social media policy can promote and protect a company’s brand. The bottom line is, everything is visible; don’t make the mistake of waiting until it’s too late.
Don’t ban social media, embrace it
Social media is no longer a phenomenon or a fad; it’s reality. Many companies have banned social media websites in response to cases in which employees were speaking poorly about the company or co-workers. If this is the case, managers should consider disciplining the liable employee rather than banning the social media platform. Enforcing a social media policy through human resources management will teach employees how and when to use social media as a platform. A social media policy shouldn’t only dictate what to do to avoid damaging circumstances, it should convey the message that social media is a powerful tool that can also be used to promote a brand.
More and more companies are recognizing that social media has blurred the distinction between personal life and work life. By encouraging employees to take on the policy, an employer can express that, when used properly, employees can use social media discretely and as an effective means for brand awareness. Social media recruiting is a perfect example. The free exposure a brand receives as a result of potential candidates discussing the brand on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is remarkable. There will undoubtedly be some drawbacks in letting employees have some freedom on their personal social media accounts, but education and appreciation through effective human resources management and consulting can curtail potential problems.
There is simply too great a risk in letting employees use social media in the workplace without a social media policy in place. While managers would love to genuinely trust each and every employee, especially those who have worked at the firm for 20-plus years, there still needs to be a policy in place to protect the company. Gene Morphis, the ex-CFO of Francesca’s, was reputed to be an exceptional and experienced CFO, and apparently also an advocate of public social media profiles. In other words, you can have a brilliant employee, but that employee is still human. Knowing where to draw the line on social media can safeguard your company against possible incidents. A human resources policy surrounding social media use is the most effective way to draw this line.
The bottom line is, if a company is not actively involved with social media through its human resources, the company is behind the times. Given its pervasiveness, it is no longer a secret or a surprise that much of our daily communication takes place through social media. It is a tool that can both help build and destroy. Take advantage of the tool, but be sure to have a social media policy in place to avoid any unwanted HR fiascos.
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