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Feb 7, 2014

The impact of social media on the business world is continuing to evolve and shape how marketing, PR and HR departments operate.

While social media is a great way to engage with customers and create buzz, it can also backfire to cause serious damage to a company’s image.

Employers can help avoid the lasting negative impact that a social blunder can have by making sure they educate employees on social guidelines in engaging, digital ways.

It’s crucial to have a social media policy

It seems that every few weeks, a brand or employee is in the news for sending a rogue tweet, Facebook post or Instagram picture. In many cases, these posts cost the person responsible their job and the company its credibility.

That’s why it is crucial for companies to establish a social media policy and communicate that policy in a way that employees can easily understand.

Having information on company regulations readily available in a digital format can help to prevent these social blunders from happening by ensuring employees are fully educated on the do’s and don’ts.

With digital communications, you can track how many employees are engaging with educational content, and ensure that your social media policies are understood company-wide.

4 huge employee-driven social media blunders

The year 2013 saw a record number of ill-advised social media snafus followed by serious repercussions for those responsible. Here we highlight just four of the blunders to show our point.

4. Early in 2013, Tesco found itself in the headlines after horse DNA was found in its beef burgers. During the scandal, it appeared a Tesco employee forgot to adjust its pre-scheduled tweets; a tweet reading “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay!” added to the firestorm of customers who were demanding an apology.

Takeaway: Constantly monitor your social media calendar and make sure it’s aligned with your current situation.

3. Applebee’s found itself at the center of a controversy after a waitress was fired for posting a receipt on Reddit in which she was not only denied a tip, but the customer wrote “I give God 10 percent, why do you get 18?”

The waitress was fired as a result of posting the receipt, as the company’s policy states that customer information is private and not to be shared publicly. Applebee’s statement in response said that,

Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee.”

Takeaway: Educate your staff on what is and what is not sharable.

2. Taco Bell faced its own social media crisis this past summer when a photo on Twitter showed a Taco Bell employee at an unnamed restaurant location licking a stack of taco shells. There was a large customer outcry not only on Twitter, but the picture was also posted dozens of times on TacoBell’s Facebook page.

Takeaway: Coach your employees on the implications of their social activity.

1. Justine Sacco, a PR executive for IAC, created a firestorm before her flight to Africa departed, tweeting: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

The post went viral while Sacco was on a flight for 12 hours and the tweet could not be taken down. After landing, Justine was promptly terminated by IAC and the company issued a statement saying that the tweet does not reflect the views and values of IAC.

Takeaway: Teach your employees to keep their professional hat on when it comes to social media – it’s easy for their personal and professional identities to get melded into one.

Lessons learned

The big lessons from 2013? Proactively empower your employees to be your best spokespeople. That means you need to:

  • Develop a corporate social media policy to serve as the first line of defense in mitigating risk, not only for the employer, but also for the employee.
  • Communicate these policies with your employees in an engaging and digestible way, such as short-term custom video, to ensure that employees consume the information and that they fully understand your corporate messaging.
  • Track your employees “engagement” or viewership of the custom videos to ensure that your message is being received.
  • Reiterate your policies constantly, especially whenever there is company news, potential for a social snafu, or confidential information being shared
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