All companies and organizations should conduct periodic reviews of its social media policies, especially when it relates to professionals on staff whose roles include posting social media commentary on behalf of your employer. Too often damaging tweets are dismissed as a minor offense, which not only sends the wrong message to the public, but also questions the organization’s ability to manage its employees. While humor is acceptable as part of the organization’s general content strategy and response process, it is important that the violator not be in control of follow-up actions without the express involvement of the legal department and top officials. Using humor to assuage the issue could exacerbate or confuse the public. because it is difficult to transmit tone on a social media platform.
Resources supporting disciplinary measures
- The NLRB mentions that companies will use every means available under the law to hold persons accountable for disparaging, negative, false or misleading information or comments on the internet. (Gordon & Woon, 2014). A recent NLRB Advice Memorandum did find lawful U.S. Security’s policy that employees behave in a “respectful manner” on social media. (Loatman, 2014). The NRLA affirmed that legal principles created by courts and legislatures in the days when “publishing” meant “paper” still apply on social media. (Thomson-Reuters, 2014)
- There seems to be a trend to have a lackadaisical “it was an isolated incident” attitude towards the need to fire employees who make critical errors. Associate Director for the Public Relations Society of America Laurent Lawrence (2015) said, “While responding to one of its followers, a social media manager tweeted a sexually graphic image from its official twitter account. The most interesting aspect is that the manager was not fired and US Airways reps labeled the incident an “honest mistake.”
- Bring in Support Staff: The PR team and Legal team will work together to craft a response to the inappropriate comment. What we’ve learned from social media crisis such as the (Links to an external site.)Justine Sacco debacle (Links to an external site.), is that responding quickly is the key to damage control. By bringing in the experts who can help assuage the situation with professional guidance and an appropriately worded response, we help protect the organization and separate the employee from the organization’s culture.
- Acknowledge the issue: A formal response acknowledging the seriousness of the issue and a commitment to a course of action to evaluate the employees’s behavior will be the first communication response. This follows Barry Welford’s guidelines for “Responding to a Social Media Crisis (Links to an external site.)” to protect an organization’s reputation.
- Apologize: An apology helps acknowledge the organization’s responsibility in the situation and offers a mea culpa for the offense. We’re not making excuses – we are taking action and we’re sorry for what happened. It also invites the organization’s fans and supporters to come to our defense – further distancing the organization from the employee. The public may understand that the employee is responsible for the situation. It moves the organization away from being in defense mode to moving on.
- Careless Behavior Fuels Apology Overuse: Companies tweet apologies so often that there is an underlying current that something is inherently wrong.
According to Beaubein (2014), “A study published recently in the Journal of Pragmatics examined 1,183 Twitter apologies issued bycorporations, celebrities and ordinary people. Corporate Twitter accounts used the words “sorry” and “apology” or “apologize” at 8.6 times the frequency of individuals. “Regret” appeared 37.5 times more frequently in corporate tweets. Corporations issue a lot of apologies on social media because that’s where people go to complain, but perhaps also because companies tweet too often, stirring up trouble with careless statements. ‘There is a perception that there is a daily need to create content to engage consumers,’ says Jason Kapler of Networked Insights. ‘I’d say it’s a less a problem of tweeting too often and more a case of tweeting too stupid.’”
- His comments end in a conclusion that “Typically this happens when the person tweeting doesn’t have the brand’s best interests in mind.”
- Like a blog, Twitter is a reactionary public forum and even a dumb tweet (Links to an external site.)”Me likey Broke Girls” (Links to an external site.) can get someone fired -especially when you’re supposedly “ghost tweeting” your employer’s account. (Hachman, 2013)
- Action(s) Transparency: A post reply with a detailed explanation including steps taken in response to the comment and further action including termination of the employee will be provided by the communications team. A link to the full statement will be posted on the organization’s web page and linked to on the appropriate social media channels.
- Next Steps: Your organization may choose to remain quiet for a few days while public sentiment dies down. Following this period we will align content strategy with inspiring, positive stories to counter damage.
- Questions to ask:
- Where is the line drawn in incompetent, professional behavior and the message this sends to our employees that highly visible, flagrant behavior in managers will be tolerated?
- What measures do you have in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the Communications Department?
- What is cause for dismissal for a disparaging social media post?
- Beaubein, G. (Feb. 6, 2014). (Links to an external site.)Are Corporate Twitter Apologies a result of Tweeting too Much (Links to an external site.)?
- Bernheimmer, M. (July 1, 2014). How to Ruin Your Life in 140 Characters.
- Boudreaux, C. (Dec. 24, 2013). (Links to an external site.)American Red Cross: Online Communications Guideline (Links to an external site.)
- Gordon, P. & Woon, L. (July 24, 2014). (Links to an external site.)United States: Five Recent NLRB Cases Provide Further Insight On Structuring Employers’ Social Media Policies (Links to an external site.)
- Hachman, M. (April 12, 2013). (Links to an external site.)6 People who got Fired over a Tweet (Links to an external site.).
- Lawrence, L. (Feb. 9, 2015). (Links to an external site.)Biggest PR disasters of 2014 (Links to an external site.).
- Loatman, M. (Sept. 23, 2014). NLRB Advice Memorandum Finds Employer’s Social Media Disclaimer Policy Is Lawful.
- Thomson-Reuters (Oct. 30, 2014). (Links to an external site.)Employees Use of Social Media and the NLRA: Practical Tool Kit (Links to an external site.)
- Welford, Barry. (Jan. 16, 2014). Social Media Examiner. How to Respond to a Social Media Crisis. (Links to an external site.)