Wednesday 27 March 2019 5:15 pm

Brands, don't let your employees' bad social media posts harm your reputation

One of the many lessons of 2018 was how easily a worker’s social media activity can damage a brand’s reputation. I don’t just mean the deliberate attacks made by angry ex-employees, but the accidental disasters caused by well-meaning contributions to the marketing effort.

HSBC experienced this in October, when Business Insider published a piece about the utopian “day in the life” of the bank’s California-based executive Melania Edwards. Her schedule – which involved 5.30am starts, green juice breakfasts, and pre-work tennis – was met with public derision, and accusations that this was a publicity stunt using an actress.

However, the social media challenge for brands is much bigger than the occasional tone-deaf article. Any flippant post about a bad day, bad boss, or bad employee can spark a Twitter storm, as can office party photos that capture moments of misbehaviour.

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The question is: can you dictate what your employees do on their own social media accounts, even out of office hours? If it relates to your business, the answer is yes.

Joining an organisation means agreeing to a set of behaviours that are defined in your employment contract, staff handbook, and guidelines.

A social media policy should be part of this, but it needs to take into account that employees can potentially help your brand’s reputation as much as they can damage it. In fact, many customers are more likely to follow the posts of a brand ambassador, rather than the business itself.

Understanding your brand is the best way to define this policy and what employees can and can’t do.

Obviously, you want to keep your proprietary information out of the public domain, and protect the personal data of customers, colleagues, and third parties. Posting any of this information will be a disciplinary matter, as will anything that causes reputational damage.

Make sure that employees understand that this extends to any detrimental posts about colleagues, customers, and the company – even those quick posts about malfunctioning IT, slow internet, or boring meetings.

Some organisations in sensitive sectors often request that employees never mention work at all on personal social media, and have strict guidelines for networking platforms such as LinkedIn. In many cases, this is as much about safeguarding employees as it is about protecting the brand.

Training is therefore essential, but be prepared for it to extend beyond the dos and don’ts of your policy. Even the most prolific social media users may need a few marketing tips.

For instance, staff members may not fully appreciate cultural specificity versus the global nature of the internet. The life of Melania Edwards may seem normal in sunny California, but it isn’t going to land well for UK readers on a grey, drizzly morning.

Coordination is also valuable. It prevents 20 employees retweeting the same article to your followers, or a single infrequent social media user retweeting your last two month’s content in a five-minute spree.

Now, I obviously don’t want to start a Twitter storm about equally utopian approaches to social media. The aim is to get your policy in place, and make sure that your employees understand that reading it is part of their responsibilities to the organisation.

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The process of educating users will take time, but a good starting point is to pull together tips that your keenest brand ambassadors can offer.

After that, keep an eye on what’s happening online, and provide steering to get the most out of your employees’ efforts. Do this, and your staff’s positive use of social media should become an integral part of not only your marketing strategy, but also part of their day job.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.