Q&A: How Should We Handle Workers’ Profane Social Media Posts?
August 18, 2015 Answer by: Bill Rosenthal, CEO, Communispond

An employee continually shares tweets during the workday that don’t paint our company in the best light. He also uses profanity in his tweets regularly. But he doesn’t indicate where he works in his Twitter bio. And the profanity and perspectives he shares are part of the “personal brand” he portrays online. From an HR perspective, what are my options?

—Uncharted Waters, corporate communications director, financial services

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Dear Uncharted Waters,

Your concerns about this employee’s tweets are well-founded and a perfect example of why social media has become one of management’s most important communications duties.

You’re not the only one among your company’s many stakeholders who’s noticed them by now, given how fast salacious gossip travels. Worse, his not mentioning where he works in his Twitter bio probably won’t protect your company against the potential damage his tweets could cause to its image. In this brave new world, whatever we send out electronically lives there forever.

That’s why I recommend your company act quickly and commit to spending time and means on rolling out a new, comprehensive and practical social media policy. Once it’s official, human resources can refer to it when helping management deal with any employee’s controversial online statements regarding your company.

To reinforce the urgency and importance to your company’s future surrounding this task, introduce this new policy with a major, live address by your most senior manager or owner to all employees (with the help of videoconferencing for those working at remote locations).

Turn to the many resources for developing social media policies available now, from individual consultants to professional organizations as well as your in-house HR department and in-house or outside legal counsel.

Be sure the head of your company prepares for this presentation thoroughly, if possible with the help of outside expertise. As a communications professional, you know better than most your leadership’s oratory skills will make or break such a huge and essential transformation of your company's operations and core values.

With the guidance of your legal counsel and HR, ask this employee to stop these critical and unprofessional tweets as soon as you can, which means most likely before the address takes place. There’s too much at stake for your company’s and his reputation.

Here are some fundamental tactics for winning over audiences we’ve seen stand the test of time and a myriad of difficult communications challenges:

  1. Begin by describing as briefly as possible the events, trends and brainstorming that led you to this crucial juncture in your company's history — the “why” of your decision. Avoid highlighting the employee’s defamatory, rude tweets. Most likely everyone attending will be aware of what he’s done, and shaming someone publicly is no way to motivate others. Your company’s head should instead use other organizations’ social media crises as powerful case histories.
  2. Spell out the fundamentals of your new social media policy clearly and fully, but make sure the total amount of information shared is digestible in one sitting (no more than 45-50 minutes long). Avoid the weeds; stick with the policy’s most fundamental tenets and the outcomes if someone ignores or violates them repeatedly.
  3. Accentuate the positive, credibly. You want the audience concerned, not fearful. Perhaps you can suggest how common sense rules actually help people find new opportunities to create value and shine themselves. There are plenty of clever, innovative applications of social media technologies to illustrate this point.
  4. Anticipate a post-announcement informal Q&A. You might schedule small employee focus groups from all sections of your organization after the announcement to encourage feedback, gauge their reactions and solicit their ideas for ensuring widespread support for this key initiative.

Best wishes for smooth sailing ahead!

SOURCE: Bill Rosenthal, Communispond, East Hampton, New York, Aug. 18, 2015.

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