It was reported in The Independent last month that the Vice President of popular clothing brand, J Crew, was sacked due to something he’d posted on his social media account.

Alejandro Rhett was sacked after posting pictures on Instagram which appeared to be mocking the 175 staff he’d personally made redundant earlier that day, staff which made up around 10% of all J Crew employees.

Of course, Rhett’s behaviour was exceptionally ill-timed and in bad taste, but what other behaviour on social media could lead to dismissal? What should companies be doing to ensure its staff don’t bring the company into disrepute online?

Social media benefits and pitfalls

Social media has created various benefits in the workplace; it’s a great way to increase awareness of your brand with your target audience, queries can be answered instantaneously, and the immediacy of the channel means that a brand can easily jump on trends to be seen at the centre of the conversation. Perhaps most beneficial is job advertising; employers are able to search quickly for potential candidates for roles quicker and cheaper than ever before.

However, with all of its benefits, social media in the workplace does have some pitfalls.

The three main issues are:

  • Workplace difficulties: Handling discipline, recruitment and grievances in a very new light.
  • Debate: On individual freedom of speech Vs corporate control on brand, reputation and workplace behaviour.
  • Blurred lines: Between work life and home life.

Employers must be very careful not to make judgements from what they see from potential candidates online, as there is a real danger of discrimination. Employees must also be careful, by being responsible online and managing privacy settings to ensure that only information which they are happy for people to see is displayed.

Best practice for employees

Igniyte’s guide on ‘Managing your Personal Information online’ gives an indication of the pitfalls to social media and the best ways to protect yourself. As well as protecting your personal details, you also need to protect your own – and your employers’ – reputation.

Social media blurs the lines between boundaries of home life and work life, making it a tricky balancing act. There are no editorial constraints or strict guidelines to running your personal social media accounts, so essentially there are no rules. This doesn’t mean you can post whatever you want though – be very aware of the possible consequences of what you say.

By following these three tips, you will give yourself the best chance of managing your social media accounts responsibly and effectively.

  • Treat online and offline behaviour in the same way: Employees might want to let off steam about work every now and again, they might chat to a few close friends or family about it, but it’s unlikely they’d want to shout about it publicly for fear of the wrong person overhearing. Social media is the same, when you post an update – remember it’s public and anyone could see it.
  • Get the balance right: Social media is great for personal expression, but remember that if you have the name of the business you work at on your social media profile, you must take extra care in the opinions you express to ensure they won’t conflict with the values of your company.

Best practice for employers

A 2012 report by SilkRoad Technology revealed that 75% of employees access social media daily on the job, with 60 % doing it multiple times per day. It is thought that this number has increased in the last three years. Despite this, only 23% of the employees had received a social media policy from their employers, and less than 10% had some kind of social media training.

It is clear that a social media policy can advise people of the potential pitfalls, whilst also creating clarity between employees and their bosses.

Employers should take the following steps when creating a social media policy:

  • Set out what is acceptable behaviour: Give examples of what employees can and cannot say about the company, make it clear what the procedure might be if this is breached. If the internet is allowed for personal use, set the boundaries as to how much and when.
  • Requiring disclaimers on certain platforms is acceptable: Employers can require employees to include disclaimers on their postings. For example, various people simply use “my views” in their Twitter profile to protect an organisation.
  • Prevent bullying, discrimination, and harassment: Social media can become a forum for inappropriate remarks among co-workers. Be clear in your social media policy that this kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated.
  • Comply with regulations: Remind employees not to post any information online that violates applicable laws, including confidentiality and privacy. Be specific so that employees understand the guidelines.

So long as there is clarity between what is expected by bosses and what employees are allowed to do, there should be no real damaging issue for individuals or companies. It’s often when people do not know the boundaries when they step out of line.

At Igniyte, we work with businesses of all sizes to create strong online reputations, with the use of social media as a main platform for your business. In all types of online brand management, consistency and clarity are key to pushing out your company message.

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