What can HR do to avoid a social media disaster?

by Chloe Taylor27 Apr 2015

Today’s world is edging ever-closer to the virtual – and the world of work is no exception.

According to one expert, this puts organisations in a vulnerable position: one where workers can tarnish their company’s employer brand with a simple click of a button.

HC previously reported that former PayPal director of strategy Rakesh Agrawal was sacked after his highly publicised online tirade aimed at a colleague.

Agrawal notoriously referred to one colleague as a “useless middle manager” and a “piece of ****”, which ultimately led to PayPal issuing a statement via Twitter.

“Rakesh Agrawal is no longer with the company,” the tweet read. “Treat everyone with respect. No excuses. PayPal has zero tolerance.”

But are there any steps employers can take as a form of preventative action?

“It’s perhaps more important than ever to establish a mutual trust between employers and employees,” Susan Howse, GM of ManPower Group Solution, told HC. “Many corporations are not necessarily prepared and ready to manage what could happen if they don’t have this situation of trust with staff – or perhaps they are unaware of the key steps they should be taking to build this in the company culture.”

According to Howse, social media has increased the need for this reliability in employees.

“Social media is a vessel,” she told HC. “It provides people with an opportunity to speak out about anything, particularly in the heat of the moment.”

Howse outlined the following steps for establishing a sense of trust:

  1. First and foremost, companies need to be transparent and open when it comes to sharing information. Helping employees to understand the organisation’s vision and objectives, as well as any changes that are due to occur, will build engagement and increase their value of the work they are doing.
  2. It’s important to keep policies and employee frameworks simple, clear and concise; expectations need to be understood from both sides.
  3. Employers need to provide an opportunity for employees to voice things internally. With many generations in one workforce, HR needs to look at multiple ways of doing this. Providing a multi-platform approach will suit all generations – millennials generally communicate by social media, so providing an internal blog could be a good way of encouraging them to voice their achievements or grievances. However, it’s important that employers respond to employees’ thoughts – be they positive or negative – quickly, as ignored concerns can escalate quickly.
  4. Remember to encourage celebration. One of the things we find works is leaders publishing positive stories about their workforce on social media, or companies acknowledging and recognising when employees post positive stories about work to their own pages.

Howse added that within a multi-generational workforce, people will still want to use email and communicate face to face – companies need to provide a multi-faceted means of communication.

“Employers should provide necessary substitutes if their workforce is geographically dispersed or work practices affect the accessibility of a particular communication platform,” she said, suggesting chats over intranet systems or video meetings.
Of course, there is no way that organisation can prevent negative comments from ever surfacing about them.

“Policies should be about explaining what’s reasonable and right rather than being restrictive,” Howse said. “Most organisations now have a Code of Practice or Conduct in relation to social channels. Too many restrictions can affect operations as a lot of today’s business is conducted using these platforms.”

According to Howse, it is futile for employers to restrict employee use of social media platforms in relation to work.

“Employees will do this anyway, whether it’s from their work station or their handheld device,” she said. “But 95-7% of people are out to do the right thing – recognising and rewarding behaviours rather than restricting them is more effective, as it is likely to prevent the need to manage fallout from bad press.”

Trust permeates from employee engagement, said Howse; if employees respect their work, the chances are they won’t want to speak poorly of the company.

“This is why it’s vital for employers to have an effective method of measuring employee engagement in place,” she explained. “It will help employers to identify initiatives and actions they can implement to better their employer brand – addressing any issues fast is key.”


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