Business smack-down on social media savvy employees

Business smack-down on social media savvy employees

Today, The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article discussing how some businesses are taking disciplinary action — including sackings — against employees for comments made on Facebook and Twitter.

This hammered home the central points of yesterday’s post about how employers need to get used to employees having very public online profiles that can be powerful brands in themselves.

In discussion with Lisa Barone and Aaron Darc, the feeling was that businesses are fearful of employees criticising the brand publicly or of spreading opinions that conflict with the company brand message.

There are two issues that are raised by this trend – and neither side is innocent.

1. Social media is here to stay, whether business owners like it or not.

Businesses need to accept that their employees have a voice, have opinions and can forward the brand by using their voices to build customer relationships, network and obtain relevant feedback. Failure to evolve into the new connected and web savvy world will make some businesses as extinct as the dinosaur.

2. Social media isn’t private.

Users need to understand the legal ramifications or potential career suicide of openly attacking their employers, slandering coworkers (or anyone, for that matter) or deliberately conflicting with the brand. Social media conversations are not private, no matter what some people may insist. Although a business may not have control over your opinions in your own time, many now have provisos written into contracts about appropriate conduct – especially when acting as a spokesperson, unofficial or otherwise. This would seem to be common sense for many. After all, who would expect the boss to continue employing them if they openly attack the business or work against their goals?

That isn’t to say all criticism should be silenced and dissent stamped out. Far from it. Constructive criticism should always be welcomed by employers and businesses, wherever it comes from. But it may be necessary to consider which would be the best forum to present this criticism to the right people in the right way.

Yet common sense as this may be, some employees do cross the line between effective online networking and punching the boss on Twitter.

There is a lot of adjustment needed as we all get used to the incredibly powerful new tools we have on the internet. Social standards are still being formed, online etiquette is constantly evolving and business is always the last to change. Those that adapt to the new rules quicker will reap far greater rewards from engaging with their new audience effectively and responsibly.


  1. Interestingly enough, our state broadcaster, TVNZ, has banned Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, TradeMe etc, for employees.
    The reason for the ban is apparently to save bandwidth but who believes that?

  2. I think it is a good rule of thumb to think about before you post how you would feel about your mother/employer/spouse reading what you write and if that makes you cringe best not to say it 🙂

  3. I think this is a key point for businesses to remember – “Businesses need to accept that their employees have a voice, have opinions and can forward the brand by using their voices to build customer relationships, network and obtain relevant feedback.”
    It might be asking too much but why not utilise these staff members who are obviously savvy with social media and make it part of their role to interact with potential and existing customers, new strategic partners, media etc.

  4. Kimota says

    The problem is that it is still common for some businesses to view ‘relationship building’ and customer conversations as a waste of time and resources unless it can be tied directly into a sale. I hear it quite often from people bewildered that there could be any business use for Twitter, or insisting that blog posts should tie directly into products complete with calls to action, etc.
    There is no doubt that the modern online consumer is far more adept at screening out advertising and blatant marketing pitches. They are in control of the conversation for the first time ever and therefore businesses need to learn how to play the game by their rules.

  5. Leanne says

    So it’s a courageous company that brings that employee debate inside the firewall. I’ve worked in one that did, and the company reaped the benefits of such a candid engagement with employees. Interestingly enough, the company also had as a test – around what employee might appropriately say – ‘Imagine that what you say appears on the front page of a major newspaper, there to be read by your family and friends’. Still valid.
    There is great opportunity for companies to experiment with all these tools internally. That’s often how they will work out the potential value for customers. One could query whether a company that is unwilling to have a deep and meaningful with its employees is really genuine about caring for its customers?

  6. … so the ‘honest’ ‘transparent’ ‘authentic’ voice is only appropriate for marketing, not staff? Perhaps a true relationship will mean accepting that staff will chat about their happiness or otherwise with others in social networks and dealing with the issues rather than just enforcing company policy?
    Anyway, “doocing” an employee works against anything the company is trying to do – I liked the fact Telstra’s NowWeAreTalking let a sacked employee keep blogging. He ranted at first that his Customer Service departement in Brisbane was being shutdown but eventually moved onto how the outplacement was being managed until he was the final one to leave.
    For the record, Facebook is a gated community – you have to be a friend to see most people’s content – and has strict rules against being used for data mining and “gained access solely for your personal, non-commercial use,” therefore sacking staff due to Facebook shenanigans on personal Profile (not Pages) would contravene that ToS.