Social media can be a two-edged sword. It can provide a great deal of positive attention for you and your business. However, it can also be responsible for negative attention that you neither want nor need. And it’s possible that one of your employees could cause a PR nightmare either knowingly or unknowingly.
This post in Social Media today details a couple of incidents in which employees caused a social media nightmare for their companies. The examples in this post both involved fast food restaurants and, in both cases, the actions of the employees were way over the top. (One incident involved a photo of a fast food employee standing in lettuce with a caption informing his audience that this was the lettuce they were being served at the restaurant and the other involved an employee urinating on a food item.) Obviously, these are extreme cases with predictable outcomes.
Let’s take a look at a scenario that might not be quite so predictable or over-the-top though. Let’s say that a veterinary technician that works in your hospital is out one evening partying with some friends. She has a little more to drink than she should and posts a photo on her Facebook or Twitter page that shows her dancing on a table top with a lampshade on her head. (Yes, that’s a cliche but I think you get the picture.)
The next morning she comes to work with a headache resulting from her drinking activities of the previous night but otherwise her normal smiling self. Her first task is admitting surgery patients, greeting their owners and preparing the pets for the doctor’s arrival. One of the pet owners dropping a pet off that morning asks her who will performing the surgery for the pet. Your technician replies “Dr. So-and-so will be performing the surgery and I will be monitoring your pet’s anesthesia and assisting the doctor.” The pet owner acknowledges the information, reads and signs the surgical permit, and then leaves the pet in what the owner believes are the capable hands of your technician.
A short time later, the same pet owner logs into her Facebook or Twitter account and sees the photo of your technician from the previous evening. The pet owner frowns and now she remembers that your technician’s eyes looked a little bloodshot when she dropped her pet off at the hospital this morning. She thinks a little harder and remembers the technician yawning a couple of times while going about the business of admitting her pet. Now the pet owner is starting to wonder whether your technician is sharp-minded and focused enough to be able to provide expert assistance to the doctor during the pet’s surgery. The pet owner is now simultaneously worried about her pet and upset with your hospital.
Whether the pet owner’s concerns are valid or not, they are real nevertheless. Even if the surgery goes perfectly, with no complications, the seed of doubt has still been planted. And if the surgery does not go as planned and complications ensue, even minor ones, this pet owner will now likely be convinced that the problems are a result of your technician’s physical condition. At best, you now have a pet owner who may never want to return to your hospital with her pet. At worst, you could have a pet owner who decides to pursue a complaint or legal action against your hospital because of the complications with her pet’s surgery.
This scenario is fictional. Still, I think the story serves to illustrate how a seemingly innocent status update or tweet could be misconstrued by a client. This is only one example. There are many other scenarios that could potentially play out to cause headaches for you and your business as well.
What can you do to protect yourself, your business and your employees?
- Establish a social media policy. For more information about what to include in your policy, see Establishing a Sound Social Media Policy for Your Business.
- Facebook privacy settings can be used to help keep posts published by employees private. Tweets can be protected as well. However, your employees may be unfamiliar with these settings and may need help in this arena. Be sure they can get that help if necessary.
- Privacy settings on personal accounts can provide some protection but should not be considered absolute. There is a fine line to walk in establishing what an employee is allowed to publish on their personal social media accounts. However, employees should remember that bad decisions about what they post can affect future job prospects. It is also important for employees to remember that they are seen by the public as representatives of the business where they are employed.
- Consider whether employees should be allowed to friend clients on social sites and spell out such restrictions in your social media policy.
- Decide which employees are allowed to publish on your own social media channels and establish clear-cut rules about what is and is not acceptable for publication. For instance, you may want to restrict employees from sharing political views via business-oriented social media channels.
- Above all, make sure that employees realize that once something is posted to any social media site, it cannot be “taken back”. Employees should realize that there may be consequences for both the business and for the employee if damaging content is published. If in doubt about the suitability of a post pertaining to a business, it should not be published without being “vetted” by the business’ management first.
- Your business should have a plan in place to handle negative publicity. Hopefully, you will never have to use it. However, in the event that the worst happens, knowing who will handle the situation and how it should be handled can go a long ways toward putting out a fire rather than fanning the flames, so to speak.
Do you have a social media policy in place? Do you worry about the possibility of a social media disaster affecting your business? Have you experienced a social media mistake and survived to talk about it? Please share your thoughts. We love to hear from you.