Blurring the Lines of Personal and Professional Online

Business.com / Social Media / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Can you prevent employees from socially sabotaging your business?

You've seen it on numerous Twitter profiles, "Retweets are not endorsements.” People use it attempting to draw a line between the personal and professional on social media.

It's a smart but useless message because from the consumer perspective, there is no difference between your company's official business account and your employees' personal ones. Which makes the whole social media thing that much trickier. 

You are your brand

It's easy to blur the lines between personal and professional for individuals in the public eye. If Louis C.K. or Kim Kardashian misstep, they're only hurting themselves. But it's no longer just individuals who are the face of the brands they represent. Anyone associated with your brand on social media can hurt you with one ill-conceived post.

That’s sort of the rub with consumer-centric marketing. Using new tactics like psychographics and sentiment to connect with audiences on a human level is great for increasing brand awareness and engagement. The problem is it makes brands easily accessible and accountable to consumers – especially when things go wrong. Even if the brand is actually the victim of social sabotage by an angry employee, consumers will stick them with the blame. 

Don't go off the rails

When an employee – or even an executive – goes off the rails on social media, it's not pretty.

Bank of America learned this the hard way  this summer when an employee posted a racist rant on Facebook – using the n-word and multiple expletives. Users were so offended they looked up her place of employment on the social network.

Tweets to Bank of America chronicled outrage felt by those who had seen the comments:

“[She] wrote a horrifically racist, anti-Black comment on Facebook and she proudly listed you, Bank of America, as her employer. Does she represent the racist values you strive for or the ones you’ve promised to abandon?" one comment said.

The original horrific post didn't even call out Bank of America, yet Facebook users questioned the company's values based on the woman's employment.

“I hope this company’s values do not align with [hers]. Let this be a lesson to those who choose to be nasty on the Internet and believe their actions have no repercussion. Please, let me and others who have reported her know that this situation will be taken care of. Thank you.”

The company did the smart thing – really, the only thing – by firing her, and letting the world know: We are aware of an unacceptable post on Facebook. The comments are reprehensible. We have terminated the employment of the individual.

This inclination to investigate offensive posts is a trend that affects businesses of all sizes. In 2015, an intern at an Arizona health company posted a racist image of herself and a friend picking cotton. 

According to Cosmopolitan, the original tweet, used as both evidence and ammunition, discovered that [the poster] was employed as an intern at Isagenix, a company that markets dietary supplements and personal care products."

Just like Bank of America, the company dismissed the intern and alerted the social realm that her values were not representative of theirs.

And who can forget Justine Sacco – then Director of Corporate Communications at InterActive Corp – whose tweet about catching AIDs as she left for Africa resulted in her immediate dismissal from her job? 

If a PR executive is susceptible to such a social gaffe, is there any hope for the rest of your staff? How do you keep your brand from making headlines for all the wrong reasons? 

Prepare for rogue employees 

Businesses need to recognize that slip-ups will happen, and prepare for them by ensuring they have a strict and straightforward social media policy.

It’s not enough to have sensitivity training or a vague clause about how the company can fire an employee at their discretion. Instead, it should be very clear to employees that social media posts and retweets are endorsements if they list their employer on their social media accounts. 

Better yet, a clause like this should be in every handbook and contract to (hopefully) prevent employees from socially sabotaging your business: 

“XYZ Company understands that its employees hold diverse viewpoints, opinions and beliefs, but our company's view on all political, religious and other potentially controversial topics is nonexistent - we are a company and our focus is on our business.

As such, we do not wish our company name to be in any way associated with employees' personal beliefs, so we require that you do NOT list XYZ Company as your employer on ANY social networking platform, without express written consent.”

Each employee must sign a copy of the policy, indicating their understanding of both the rules and the consequences of not adhering to them. To that end, brands need to put customers first – as the above companies did – by dismissing employees who express values and positions that don't align with their image or culture.

Otherwise, social users may believe you feel the same way as a rogue employee – and that's definitely bad for business.

 

 Photo credit: HBRH/Shutterstock

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