In recent years, rapid advancements in technology have come to transform our lives in nearly every way imaginable. This enhanced capacity for innovation continues to reshape everything from how we communicate and stay connected to our loved ones, to how we perform work and relate to one another in the workplace, both in and out of the office. The flip-side of this transformation, however, is that it’s become increasingly difficult to keep track of evolving risks, and in uniquely human fashion, we tend to charge full speed ahead in pursuit of our goals and ambitions, sometimes failing to take preventative measures.
The same can be applied to companies, especially when it comes to managing their employer brand. This is even more important when it comes to the impact of social media on an employer's brand. Many businesses continue to have a hard time understanding and mitigating risk related to their employees’ use of social media. Employee misconduct has always been a concern for companies, but the prevalence of social media platforms has introduced a new layer of complexity to addressing issues like toxic behavior in the workplace: Disagreements that have largely been kept private can now turn into a public spectacle at any moment.
The chance of workplace drama being aired out online is only increasing as new platforms emerge and social media engagement rises. This year, the burgeoning video-sharing platform TikTok reached a milestone of over one billion users alongside continued growth in the broader space, and today nearly 60% of the world’s population regularly posts to one social media platform or another. Moreover, many organizations are still utilizing outdated processes when it comes to background screening, most of which have no mechanism for tracking and reporting on problematic social media posts or interactions.
But how exactly can a tweet or TikTok video become so costly for businesses, and what really makes it so important to monitor social media activity on an ongoing basis? Let’s take a closer look.
How Employees Can Damage Employer Brands On Social Media
Alienating Your Customer Base
One unfortunate symptom of widespread social media use is that we have become much more ideologically and politically divided as a society. Now more than ever, companies need to be sensitive to the views of their customers and be careful not to offend or become engaged in debates that may alienate a large portion of the brand's following. Sometimes it's something as simple and seemingly harmless as an embarrassing obscenity tweeted out by a social media manager, but other times it’s employees promoting toxic, inherently antagonistic views that are almost guaranteed to end up striking a collective nerve.
For example, recently, popular cosmetics retailer Estee Lauder was forced to fire a longstanding executive after he posted racist images on Instagram, leading the corporation’s HR directors to rethink the role of social media in the workplace.
Creating Public Controversies
Whether it’s an alienation of your specific customer base or not, being at the center of a public controversy is hardly ever beneficial for a company. Many have seen the challenge recently faced by The Washington Post, when a number of controversial employee tweets and Slack messages were shared across multiple platforms. The situation resulted in negative press and asked many to question what does a comprehensive social media policy include? Where does the line between employee social behavior that impacts a brand and personal social behavior begin and end? Vanity Fair in its coverage noted that the Post hasn’t made any significant updates to its social media guidelines in more than a decade. This should be a moment where employers stop and reflect on their guidelines and practices as well.
Doing Damage Off the Clock
It’s important for employers to remember that social media is a space where their employees’ work lives and personal lives are more integrated than ever. What people do for work often becomes the focal point of the content created for social media platforms.
Take John Bernal, for example, a former Tesla employee working on fully autonomous vehicle technology, who was recently fired for revealing and reviewing various driver assistance features on his Youtube channel. Or consider Lexi Larson, who was terminated a mere two weeks after securing a new job in the tech industry when she publicly disclosed her salary to followers on TikTok. In both cases, employees published information on a public forum that their employers would have preferred be kept private. This underscores the increasingly critical need for both clear policies and guidelines surrounding social media use and efficient processes to ensure these rules are followed and enforced.
How can companies better manage employee social media use and protect their brand?
One of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior. We have found that over 50% of companies that screen social media content change hiring decisions based upon past public content that has been found. Extending efforts in the pre-screening process during hiring helps companies potentially avoid impacts on their brands. As companies look to update and change their social media policy efforts should also be put in the employee pre-screening process to identify online behaviors that could create risk for an organization. Going forward, companies will need to focus on being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to addressing social media controversies. In a time when one tweet can go around the globe in minutes, taking the time to pre-screen publicly available content in a world of always on should be the cornerstone of proper planning for a brand.