When employees go wild on social media

A good question from one of my students:

During the lecture you touched on the topic of “control” in social media.  But in any company internal as well as external conflicts are usually unavoidable and that can trigger posts and tweets which can affect the reputation of the company. How do companies assure that their employees uphold the reputation of the company and prevent scandals?

I guess the short answer is, “don’t have scandals.”  : )

I imagine that company managers had the same conversation when the first telephone arrived. “How will we control our communications? What if something bad is said over the phone lines?  Is privacy over? Can’t our employees steal our information and spread it anywhere with one phone call?”

The evolution

When email arrived (yes, I remember this) my boss fought it tooth and nail. He wanted everything on paper — documented — and saw this development as the inevitable end of employee discretion and the precursor to an era of scandal (and in some ways it was!)

At each stage of our technological evolution, business leaders have had to adapt and adopt. This is no different. Social media is an evolution in how we communicate.  We can’t control the message just like you couldn’t control an employee phone call or email message.  And yes, employee communications on social media can be subjective, unexpected and even unfair.  So is life.

Businesses are going to have to learn to deal with it, as they always have.  Social media is like a Darwinian catalyst which will force rapid change in many company functions. It will expose the rocks of the company culture and possibly highlight uncomfortable vulnerabilities.  In some ways this is a gift. The companies with the best ability to adapt and adopt will certainly have an advantage in the long-term.

Step one

The first step is to have a meaningful social media policy. Employees should understand the company’s positions, policies and consequences. But it also must be a living document and associated with relevant employee training. The policy should be reviewed by a steering committee every six months to make sure it still reflects reality and that it is doing its job. It should be part of employee training and on-boarding just like any policy to guide the appropriate use of technology.

If your company does not have a social media policy, here is a website with hundreds of public examples: http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php  Maybe one of them will fit for you.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t understand social media. They are still trying to control messages and employees in unrealistic ways.  Look, even if you OUTLAW social media activity, its still going to happen over personal smartphones on coffee breaks. So be realistic and fair.

It’s going to happen

Here’s the best example I’ve seen to explain why EVERY organization needs a social media policy. A local television station was promoting a college scholarship competition on its website.  A student posted on the station’s Facebook page claiming that the contest was rigged. A teacher responded to the student, wondering if he was just upset because he had been suspended from school that week.


The teacher had violated the student’s privacy in a very public way. Now, her post was not on a social media site belonging to her, the student or the school. It was on her time and on her computer. And yet she ended up being suspended from her job and the school was red-faced because they had no social media policy in place.

Most of the social media pundits will say that if you don’t trust your employees to use social media you have a hiring problem, not a social media problem.  I think that is a bit naive and idealistic. You know what folks?  Shit happens. Teachers make mistakes. Employees get pissed.  Unions go on strike at even the best-managed companies.  Employees go crazy over personal stuff that may have nothing to do with their jobs. And if they take out their frustrations on social media, it doesn’t mean the company has a hiring problem.

So just like any other HR issue, you need to have a well-communicated policy which explains the consequences when an employee drags its employer into a mess.

Right?  What has your experience been?

All posts

  • MeganMatos

    I think another answer to this student’s question deals with the reaction after something does happen online. Not everyone is going to have a great experience at a restaurant every time. So they Tweet about their terrible server, food, drink, ect and it’s in the hands of the Interwebs and it’s out there for that persons followers to agree or disagree. At this time many people have seen this post and that’s when it’s up to the social media manager or that business to personally reach out to that individual who had the terrible service. Without this proactive reaction the company or business might receive negative business for the weeks to come. I feel like the student’s question could warrant myriad answers. Great article!

  • Excellent point Megan. A legitimate blog post in its own right! Thank you.

  • They don’t even need to go “wild” for there to be issues. I was talking to one of the kindergarten teachers at our school who had started a GREAT page for her classroom (with parent’s permission of course) at the beginning of the year and was just informed to take it down because it was against school policy. Worst part? There is “no” policy – it was just a blanket statement. I asked her if they even mentioned the special new pages especially for schools and she said no. A company cannot let ignorance be their policy.

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    I like what you said that social media (like email before it) is a catalyst for business evolution. In a very Darwinian sense, the advent and proliferation of social media weeds out companies that aren’t able to adapt effectively. One of the ways that businesses exhibit adaptability is by being prepared for unexpected events – such as an “employee going wild on social media.” Without a social media policy in place, the business shows that it is not ready to adapt yet and is not prepared for unexpected events (which is a bad business practice). Ultimately, their problem isn’t a hiring problem, it’s a failure-to-gauge-the-competitive-landscape problem.

  • Ugh. How ridiculous.

  • I like your take on this Pavel. Thanks for taking the time to add your view today!

  • danperezfilms

    What many of the social media hyperbolists (many just looking to get a cheer out of their lame-brained “audience”) miss in these types of discussions are the social media fiascos that may befall a company by one or a handful of ignorant or even disgruntled employees. With many polls illustrating how most people are not satisfied with their jobs, why would we let them run amok on the social space?

    Despite the fact that I personally don’t believe that most companies believe or need a social media policy (I do a lot of work with the local Chamber of Commerce and produce many videos for successful small-midsize companies who only use their facebook pages to stick a picture up every once and a while), I do agree with what you’ve written here.

    If you’re gonna have one, however, best to make it “a well-communicated policy which explains the consequences”. It’s a risk – but if done properly, surely it may produce some desirable results.

    Nicely written.

  • I agree that in small companies you might be able to get away without it. And I’m glad to find somebody who else agrees that an employee who hijacks a social media stream may not be a result of a poor hiring policy! Thanks Dan!

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Thank you for posting thought-provoking content!

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Reading this comment I kept imagining an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. Social media can be such an amazing tool for teachers and schools; however, the longer they ignore this, the further they get from creating the most benefit for their students.

  • I won’t even bother you with how 1998 the individual classroom sites are. I think I may have found my new crusade. I mean prospect.

  • Nice post Mark, couple of points from where I sit. I believe that any business type innovation that is perceived to lessen employer control over information or employee behavior will be met with resistance, it is just the nature of the beast. I think you spot on in that giving employees a bigger voice could expose vulnerabilities, that is the real fear.
    What is and always has been the challenge for businesses is to bend and stretch with the innovations and change. It is one thing to say it, yet another to practice it
    Lastly I completely agree that worrying about hiring the “bad apple” is silly. You do the best the can and sometimes you make a mistake. employee/employer relationships can sour for any number of reasons. The important part as we have seen in the past is how you deal with it. Companies that are aware that of course this could happen, and respond, not react when something does go south are the ones that will not only weather the storm, but come out better on the other end.

    Just my two cents…

  • Great post Mark! It really resonates with me. Social media is business, hiring people is also business and business is a part of life. It’s impossible to cover everything in life even if you have a policy. Shit happens, as you said so well. A social media policy is also a great way to start collaboration around social media.

    A social media policy sets boundaries and create space for individual responsibility, this is a necessary part of the transformation towards a social business.



  • Mark, Probably varies by complexity of operation, but would it be fair to think about supporting policy with practice such as training, certification, monitoring?

    Perhaps we manage for the upside of participation and shift the mindset from risk to opportunity showing how much we believe in (versus fear) social business. Back it up with some “skin in the game”.

    And of course, invest in Haz-Mat training & response – because hey, you never know…

  • Absolutely. It’s hard to cover all the ground in a short blog post but yes, this is an extremely important part of the pla, especially in a large and complex organization. And the haz-mat plan (love that) should be right at the top. What is the chain of command in the event of an emergency. Thanks for the very valuable insight Bill.

  • So pleased this resonated with you Mattias and thanks so much for the comment!

  • Really wonderful thinking here Gerry. I think you sum this up very well. Thanks!

  • I find it ironic how “leadership” has such a proven track record of standing in the way of trust, risk-taking, innovation, and progress, yet continues to command ever higher salaries and enjoy greater insulation from job loss, relative the line staff which does the actual work, interacts with the customer, discovers the new ideas that improve the bottom line, and evolves on par with society, and often pays the price for leadership’s being anything but.

    Heaven forbid all that top talent we so selectively hired be allowed to speak openly online! We need them to continue dealing directly with the customer, handling his credit card information, and generally being the face of the business!

    I’m not involved in public-facing social media for the 9-5, but I do deal with social behind the firewall. When asked, “How do we ensure these conversations remain professional?” I tend to reply frankly; “The same way you ensure the professionalism of the conversations in the hallway, the break room, and the parking lot.”

    Sadly, I’ve had to point out to many a “superior” the importance of actually being around and, dare I say it, paying attention. How anyone can lead thay which they do not have time or wont to follow is beyond me.

    A little trust and personal accountability goes a long way.

  • Pingback: When employees go wild on social media | fabriziofaraco()

  • “Employees go crazy over personal stuff that may have nothing to do with their jobs. And if they take out their frustrations on social media, it doesn’t mean the company has a hiring problem.”

    Hah, if you hire people who “go crazy” in a connected society you’re digging your own grave. How is this a good idea? 🙂

  • How employees behave is a reality any business must be concerned about. It’s always been that way but now both good behavior and bad lives forever in the form of digital comments, tweets, posts, photos and video.

    As a business owner for the past thirty years I’ve accepted that responsibility along with the challenge of meeting payroll and paying our bills but I’ve learned more about the topic since working a client that specializes in Civil Workplace training.

    I couldn’t agree more about the importance of having a social media policy in place. It’s important for employees to understand how their behavior at work and in public (and social media is certainly public) can have either positive or negative impact on the business and their job.

    I’ve mentioned this before in comments on {grow} and in conversations we’ve had but I used to disdain the idea of our employees wasting time during the work day on social media. Now I enthusiastically encourage everyone to use social media as a vital part of their day. I understand how valuable it can be for learning, sharing and creating. But just as importantly, I believe they understand the responsibility that comes with it.

    There’s a term used in the book Inbound Marketing by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan that decribes the responsible use of social media quite well. They call it being “Good Digital Citizens”.

  • Great comment Brian. I appreciate the passionate treatise!

  • People change. HR is not infallible. Shit happens.

  • Superb comment Billy. Thanks for adding your wisdom today!

  • Often when
    I talked to banks about Social Media, the question of internal access was a
    topic. Most of the banks do not allow Access to Facebook, Twitter & Co because
    they fear negative postings.

    In the end
    what happens? The employees are using their mobile devices and post whatever
    they like.

    I completely
    agree with you Mark, The first step is a solid social media strategy with a
    guideline for the employees

    regards from Germany


  • Yes, privacy concerns are relatively new, but the common sense etiquette might cover these cases.

    Another area that employers have to be concerned with is overreach – not all social media policies even if effective are legal.
    HR Sentry wrote a very accessible piece here:
    There is some valuable advice in Jill’s piece.
    (HR Sentry is a preferred vendor or key partner of our association.)

  • Many thanks for your perspective friend!

  • Thanks for this addition to the discussion Michael!

  • Pingback: When employees go wild on social media | SteveB's Social Learning Scoop | Scoop.it()

  • organizations and individuals must understand two things about social media, (1) it is a commitment and not a campaign and (2) what gets measured, gets managed.
    similar to brand identity guidelines, having a common sense driven social media policy is what it takes to have online reputation under control, secondly investing in monitoring tools helps the organization get a holistic view of employee’s behavior, motivational traits, personality traits and assess leadership skills within peers.

  • Pingback: Social Media’s Perception Problem(s): Everything and Nothing()

  • Pingback: Nothing new about new technology « Torben Overgaard's blog()

  • Pingback: When employees go wild on social media | SOCIAL MEDIA ECOSYSTEM | Scoop.it()

  • Pingback: When employees go wild on social media | Sozial media Marketing | Scoop.it()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details