As you’ll no doubt be aware, social media can be an amazing platform, bringing transformative success to businesses, brands, and causes. There are an estimated 3.96 billion people actively using social media with the average amount of time spent on social media a day sitting just shy of 2 and a half hours. But what happens when negativity, stupidity, or ignorance threatens to undo all your good work. What can go wrong, how do you deal with it and how do you avoid it happening again?

What can go wrong?

Reputational damage

As we have seen very recently, employees can take to social media and air unpopular, controversial,  or racist views or commentary:  See: Estate agent Savills launches investigation after racist Euros tweet | Evening Standard In the case of Savills, it’s very much about reputational damage by association. Whilst not tweeting views expressed by their employer, by posting on an account listed with their company name, the lines have been blurred and Savills have been held up as being negligent if they leave such appalling online behaviour unpunished.

Disgruntled ex-employees

Disgruntled ex-employees taking to social media or review sites to air grievances about their former company can obviously be hugely damaging, especially if they still have access to company social media accounts.  Do you remember the HMV fiasco – it’s well known for being one of the first examples of social media fails, with an employee live-tweeting 60 loyal employees were being let go in a mass firing. See more on that here: #HMVXfactorfiring

Trolls

Innocent or well-meaning posts can attract trolls leaving negative or abusive comments or simply appeal to the wrong audience. Trolls are people who deliberately provoke others online by saying inflammatory and offensive things. They live to make people upset and angry. If you read almost any news story, you’ll find the trolls… (you can read more about how to deal with trolls in our article here)

Negative reviews

Negative reviews can be highly detrimental, as can customer service channels inundated with complaints. Whilst some companies have literally saved millions (BT for example) by diverting their customer service to their social channels, it needs a lot of time and energy to ensure that enquiries and complaints are handled swiftly and effectively. Similarly, reviews, particularly negative ones, need to be responded to effectively so that they don’t damage your brand. For more advice on reviews see our article here.

How to deal with it and stop it happening?

Let’s take a step back, ideally, the first step is to have a robust social media policy in place to prevent these things from happening and a plan of action if things do go wrong. All employees need to be made aware of social media policies and be contractually obliged to follow the rules and procedures contained therein. So, what should be included in a social media policy?

  1. Firstly, define the scope of the policy and what is included – does it cover professional and personal social media profiles? Which platforms and forums are covered?
  2. Access and approval– who has access to post on social media, when and where can they post from (e.g., you might want to specify no posting after work hours, no posting from personal mobiles) and what your approval process is (be sure to include proof-reading to avoid social media posts with mistakes!) If employees are being asked to use social media to promote your firm, they must properly align themselves to the company profile and consider using separate personal profiles for non-work-related content.
  3. Brand Values and Identity – Your social media policy should contain guidelines on how anyone posting from the company or about them should represent the brand in terms of values, tone of voice, branding and imagery.
  4. Confidentiality clause – Policies should always include a reminder that online posts should not disclose information that’s confidential or proprietary to your company – or to a third party that’s disclosed information to you. Posts by employees should always comply with copyright, privacy, fair use, and financial disclosure laws. You should also make clear that you reserve the right to remove inappropriate content.
  5. Escalation policy- it’s important to have a clear structure in place in case of escalation – so what happens if a post receives negative comments, how to deal with complaints (are they immediately taken offline?). It’s best to specify whether responses come from the company (so commenting as your company) or from an agreed individual posting from the company, using their professional profile.
  6. Legalities – your policy should also refer to some of the legal aspects which need to be taken into account, including:
  • If your employees do not adhere to your social media policy and damage the company’s reputation or breach confidentiality in the UK this can lead to disciplinary action or dismissal.
  • If employees post content that goes beyond being classed as inappropriate and is seen as containing a credible threat of violence or harassment, they can be prosecuted by the CPS
  • Employees must adhere to the posting rules on the different platforms – including posting in groups or forums and their account could be suspended or reported if these rules are broken
  • False reviews – if a review can be proved to be false or defamatory in nature then legal action can be taken against the individual posting the review.

As well as having a robust social media policy, it’s important to consider any potential recruit’s public online presence and whether it aligns with your values as a company and a brand. Setting expectations from the start and following clearly laid out procedures can help avoid getting stung on social media.

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