I’m asked questions every day – most of them off the grid (non-public). Many of the ensuing conversations spark ideas for the blog posts I write, and every once in a while, someone will ask me straight up to write about something specific. This is the case today, as a reader has asked for my input on the topic of company employees making it known for whom they work, then acting as if they don’t care who signs their checks.
The reader made an interesting point:
“We’re like private investigators trying to find out info about a company,” he said, referring to how many of us research providers and manufacturers online. “And their actions reflect on that company. I base my decision to do business with a company on what their employees say or do.”
He goes on to explain how online postings of, say, employees’ drunken behavior raises serious questions:
“Will they be drunk or hung over when they work on a project of mine? Why do they hate their job? Maybe they just don’t realize the whole world can see what they write.”
There have been hundreds of articles warning both employees and employers about the downsides to social media. There have been a flurry of reports – including this one from examiner.com – concerning employees being demoted or fired over their online activity. Yet, many people still have difficulty seeing that the so-called line drawn between business and pleasure grows increasingly blurry once companies and workers “link” to each other.
Employees often name their employers on Facebook to promote experience and hook up with fellow workers. On LinkedIn, employers are listed as part of personal profiles.
What can companies do to safeguard reputations and otherwise keep employees’ private actions from causing – at times irreparable – damage? They can start by doing the following:
- Complete Internet searches on applicants prior to the interview process. The social presence of an applicant can be very telling – from what he or she might have hated from past jobs to how problems are addressed (calmly or with angst).
- Create and distribute specific rules and guidelines (policies) about representation of the company. That is, if employees are going to use their position with the company to further themselves or connect via social networks, they must refrain from questionable practices. There’s argument about what constitutes representation (most commonly it’s “on the clock” and “off the clock”) but when it’s the employee “connecting” to the company, representation becomes more transparent.
- Train employees about the long-term affects of sharing personal info on social networks. So many don’t realize the long-term repurcussions of, say, having a picture taken with bong in hand, which can be used as evidence in family law, and other legal matters. By investing in some social network training, companies can prevent employees from harming the company, while doing themselves some good as well.
- Police profiles and activities. For public accounts, companies are perfectly within their rights to peruse employee’s profiles for damaging comments, pictures and videos. Address the issues (via Human Resources, if necessary) as they arise.
- Ask the employee. If the infraction is minor enough, take the time to have a heart-to-heart. Ask him if he’s unhappy and why. Remember that many people are quick to complain to the masses, but dread exposing reservations to the boss.
- Be human. A good amount of bashing online is against the boss. If you’re not approachable, you won’t be approached. With that, higher-ups need to also see what’s going on, because it may be indicative of poor management.
This is just a start , of course. The key is that companies – regardless of fault – should be stepping up and finding out why employees feel the need to share the most private matters with the world. While seminars and outings centering on personal social presences may sound ridiculous, I’m willing to wager they can do more good than harm.
And, keep the most important thing in mind: Most potential customers and clients will never tell you why you didn’t get their business; in fact, many won’t report any inappropriate internet findings, either. So frequent analysis of employee online activity needs to be part of each business’ regular routine.