Speak out or stay silent


Helena Vallely

How should businesses approach employee social media activity?

Speak out or stay silent

The words “views are my own” have become synonymous with Twitter profiles.  But should companies not be seeking to leverage their employees and their networks to get their message out?

In recent years, social media has gone viral:

With this in mind, surely it would be good company policy to utilise the wasted work time spent on social media to the advantage of a business. It is clear that employees are the ideal base from which to launch free promotion of a company’s product and brand.

However, it is difficult to monitor the progress of every employee on social media, and more difficult still to try to control what they are saying. Strict rules concerning social media could be considered an infringement of freedom of speech.

But on the other hand, giving employees free rein across social media platforms could result in bad press for the company.

As an employer, it is important to hit the right balance.

What are the negative effects of utilising employee advocacy on social media?

Many employers shy away from the prospect of trusting their workers with the reputation of the company, and in some cases, this is wise. Without the right training, it is easy for employees to cause more harm than good on social media. Indeed, some companies even have a ban on employees mentioning the organisation from their personal social networking accounts.

Similarly, not every staff member will support the company image, and may use their personal profiles to deliberately or inadvertently damage the company reputation. Indeed, many employees have lost their jobs for complaining about their employer on social networks.

But some ways, it is even more perilous to allow employees to run the company social media accounts. In 2013, an HMV employee - angry at being made redundant - took to the company Twitter account and live-tweeted the event to HMV’s 62,000 followers.

This boosted the company’s following to 73,000, but for all the wrong reasons: HMV was hounded with negative press, and subsequently suffered profit losses.

What are the positive aspects?

Employees will have followers who may not have been exposed to the company profile before. The staff member using their personal account on behalf of the business could help to boost followers and give the organisation a touch of personality. Users tend to respond better to a human profile than a faceless company, and, if done correctly, this will work to the employers’ advantage.

Handling social media accounts can be time consuming – allowing employees to post can reduce the work load, though at the risk of creating an inconsistent brand persona.

Having a committee of people in a range of positions in the company will ensure a greater depth of inspiration for social media campaigns, improving the success of the posts.

Salesforce have implemented a reward system for employees who campaign actively for the company on social media. This has the dual bonus of rewarding those that speak positively anyway, whilst also being a positive thing to encourage on-the-fence employees to post praise.

How can the risks be combatted?

Though giving employees free rein on social media can be risky for the online reputation of a company, social media training and company social media guidelines can ensure that employees are a valuable and profitable tool for promotion.

Banning staff from mentioning their employer may appear to be a smart protective measure but in the long term, and particularly for smaller businesses, you may find you’re missing out on free publicity that could mean make or break for the company.

Only hand out company social media passwords to a few trusted employees, and establish reasonable guidelines regarding the content and tone of posts.