The question every manager asks about social media is finally answered


You can protect your company's reputation from the unruly social media activity posted by current and former employees.

Local news headlines tell a story of the dangers of social media for professionals. A few companies have come under scrutiny for their employees' social media posts too. While it’s easy for an individual to destroy their professional reputation and employability by recklessly sharing disagreeable opinions and parading unruly behaviour, we have reached a point where companies are liable for their employees’ choices too.

Watch: Can social media affect my career?

So how can you protect your company?

While you can’t stop human nature from behaving like Darwin Award nominees (since people will always post whatever they feel), you can minimise the risks to  your company's reputation. The LA Times, Coke, Hewlett-Packard, Adidas, Dell and many other successful companies have drawn up social media policies for their companies. These policies not only protect the company from silly remarks its employees may make by emphasising its disassociation with personal social media posts, while also educating their employees on basic social internet etiquette and professionalism. Employees are encouraged to clearly state their position within the company, that their tweets are personal and in no way reflective of the opinion of their employer.

This is how your company can follow suit:

Create a safe environment for you employees to raise their concerns.

Something to do before employees vent on social media. Your corporate culture should be of such a nature that employees are comfortable with raising grievances, encourage whistleblowers to come forward in the proper manner, and prompt HR to tackle and alleviate in house conflict head on.

Read: Why company culture is management’s problem

Always be clear on what is considered confidential information.

Communicate with your employees about what type of content should remain within company walls. Customers, clients, investors, competitors and sometimes employees in different departments and levels of clearance are not privvy to all information, and rightly so. You may think that it’s easy for employees to distinguish between which information is sensitive or not but it’s better to have a record of agreed upon confidentiality rules to protect yourself.

Have an open discussion explaining social media etiquette.

It is best to train your employees to use social media responsibly. You can use real life examples of unacceptable social media behaviour to bring the point home. Begin with urging them to not comment, endorse, encourage or share controversial behaviour like drinking, swearing, or any form of discrimination. You should advocate politically correct, fair and ethical behaviour both on- and offline.

Encourage your employees to activate their privacy settings so that only a select few can see their posts (as opposed to the entire internet community).

Each and every employee must be aware that there are consequences for unprofessional behaviour online, especially acts that are deemed illegal in the eyes of the law.

Employees should be informed that it is possible to lose their position for unprofessional social media behaviour. While there have been some well documented cases in the news, the South African court in 2011 upheld the dismissal of two employees after a comment insulting the owner of a company on Facebook was seen to bring the company’s name into disrepute.

Read: 2 employees you need to fire immediately

The judge agreed that a lack of privacy settings deemed their Facebook wall public domain so no one's privacy was breached. Also, even though the person’s name and company was not explicitly mentioned, the judge agreed that former and current colleagues of the employees would be able to easily identify the subjects.

Create a position for someone who dedicates their time to developing contingency plans, copy and company social media behaviour.

Also have a spokesperson who is prepared to answer questions about your company’s social media activities. Remember that anything posted on the internet will exist forever, and with screenshots, copy & paste, and embed tools, even deleting statuses doesn’t erase the evidence and damage created. Clarify that employees are not to respond to accusations or provocation at all, unless it completely agrees with the official statement.

Include a social media cleanse in your exit strategy.

Most companies have an exit interview with employees who are leaving. Make a point of ensuring that the former employee’s online presence no longer holds any ties to your company. At the very least, all ties that do exist online should clearly indicate that the person is a former employee who no longer works for you.

Otherwise you’ll catch the flak from an ex-employee’s unsavoury status updates by the online community - a reputation that’s hard to escape from.

Make sure that you hire only the best employees for your company. Always take care to do a thorough Google search of any candidate applying to your company. You should never hire someone with a dodgy online reputation. And read Careers24's Management advice to be the best manager you can be.