Social media has been both a blessing and a curse for all of us at one time or another. As much as it can bring friends and family closer together, it also brings out the worst in some people. Feeling safe among their social circles, people often "vent" about their work frustrations, from service workers blasting customers for failing to tip to professionals posting vague comments about toxic co-workers or bosses.

Unfortunately, these comments often damage a business's reputation, especially if they make their way to one of the many community groups on social media. If an employee of a restaurant blasts an employer by name, others in that community may decide to avoid it to make a point or take a stand. Whether the comments are based on truth or not, this type of reputation damage gives employers the right to take action. However, an employer's rights are counterbalanced against the basic tenets of freedom of speech.

Here are a few things you can do to protect you and your company against the potential reputation damage that can come from employee social media posts.

Set a Policy

The first step toward curtailing online over sharing from your employees is to put policies in place. While this won't stop these posts outright, it will a.) force workers to think before posting and b.) give your business recourse if an incident occurs. Employees will be violating an actual policy rather than simply expressing problems with your company while not at work.

As you develop your policy, take the lead of some companies that have put social media policies in place. Include in that policy that clients, vendors, and customers should not be discussed on social media and that financial and confidential company information is off limits.

Avoid Being Overbearing

Business owners may feel they have every right to monitor social media activity of employees and call them out for every post. When anonymous information is posted that violates your policies and puts your business at risk, don't launch a company-wide witch-hunt to track down the culprit. Simply work on reputation damage and address the issue that may be causing the hostile behavior.

While it's important to always be aware of your online reputation, it's also important to give your employees the space they need to be themselves. Avoid obsessively checking each employee's social media accounts and instead set up alerts for mentions of your brand name. If an employee is vaguely venting and customers aren't mentioned by name, give the employee a pass.

Disciplinary Options

When an employee's posts become problematic, one effective first step should be to send out a reminder about your policies. Over time, it's easy for employees to forget a document they saw when they first started working for you. This reminder could also serve as a notice that when employees post information about your business, it reflects on the brand itself.

Another option is to simply pull the employee aside and directly address the issue. If quietly addressing it doesn't resolve the situation, it may be time for disciplinary action. While employees are protected under freedom of speech, most states allow employers to fire without cause. However, it's important to know the limitations under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The labor relations board will often protect employees' rights to complain about their supervisors, even when other employees join in on the conversation. If you have doubts about whether an employee's social media activities would be protected under the Act, you should consult an attorney or human relations specialist.

Social media activity can potentially devastate a business's public reputation. As an employer, you're put in a difficult spot when you have an employee who is posting information about your business, your customers, and your work environment. This is especially true in an era where employees can vent anonymously on sites like Glassdoor. The best action you can take is to create the best environment possible for your workers and have strong policies in place that will hopefully keep these posts at bay.

Published on: Oct 13, 2016
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