Don’t lose your job over a social media post

CEO of HR consultancy Reverb reveals what she encourages her employees to post, and more importantly, what to avoid

Don’t lose your job over a social media post

To post or not to post, that is the question.

If only John Demsey had taken a moment to consider the question, he would still be employed at Estee Lauder. Unfortunately, last week, he made a $10 million mistake.

The beauty products manufacturer fired the veteran executive just days after placing him on leave over a social media post that included a racial slur and a reference to COVID-19. Demsey, who served as executive group president and oversaw brands such as Clinique and Mac, reposted a meme, which included the slur on a mock children’s book cover featuring Sesame Street characters, on his Instagram.

While on leave, Demsey apologized for making “the horrible mistake of carelessly reposting a racist meme without reading it beforehand.” On Feb. 28, the New York City-based retailer announced his departure from the company.

“This decision is the result of his recent Instagram posts, which do not reflect the values of the Estee Lauder Companies, have caused widespread offense, are damaging to our efforts to drive inclusivity both inside and outside our walls, and do not reflect the judgment we expect of our leaders,” Executive Chairman William P. Lauder and CEO Fabrizio Freda said in a statement, which Estee Lauder sent to employees and published on its website.

It's yet another cautionary tale for employees – no matter how high up the company ladder – who use social media. As a member of an organization, you’re a de facto representative and whatever you post can reflect on your employer. While avoiding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks altogether may seem like a wise strategy, it’s not practical in the digital age. Social media is an effective tool for promoting a company, and there’s no better ambassador than current employees, especially those in the HR department.

Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of Seattle-based HR consultancy Reverb, encourages her employees to post often. An official member of the Forbes Human Resources Council, Kiner has previously served in HR leadership roles at both Microsoft and Amazon.

“You want to post and share information that is informative, celebratory and positive,” Kiner told HRD. “Always make sure you're sharing something that is okay to announce to the public. Posting should of course be in line with your company's brand guidelines and social media policies.”

Read more: Ralph Lauren EVP resigns after personal conduct allegations

There are plenty of safe topics that Kiner suggests posting about: job openings, public events, anniversaries, new products and services, appreciation of partners and sponsors, kudos and recognition of other team members, promotions and big achievements. She also suggests her employees post about a day in their life, sharing what they love about their work, team and culture.

It's also an opportunity to reinforce or repost public communications from the CEO or others when they stand up for something you admire. For example, it’s common to see company leaders pledge their support to the people of Ukraine during its war with Russia.

As for what not to post, especially if you’re trying to stay employed or get hired in the future, use your judgment. If you're thinking about posting, but have reservations, it's worth listening to your instincts.

“You should never post messages or language that is discriminatory or could be considered harassment,” Kiner says. “That includes, but is not limited to, language, images and messages that are racist, sexist, ableist or would be offensive to the average person. You will very likely offend your colleagues, managers and leadership while casting yourself and your company in a negative light.”

One way to think about this standard, Kiner says, is to ask yourself "Would I be proud if my parent, best friend, spouse or partner saw this post? Do I want this to be picked up in the press or to go viral with my name on it?" If any of your answers are no, don’t post it.

Another category to stay away from is anything that might be considered confidential to your company. Even if it’s information that is inoffensive and can’t be used or understood by outsiders, Kiner says, if it's confidential, then it's not yours to share.

Don’t think you can hide behind your privacy settings, either. If your colleagues are friends or followers of your social media accounts, even though you’re private, they’ll still see what you post. Even if you’re not connected with anyone from your company, chances are whatever you post can still be discovered. After all, everything lives forever on the internet. “You should remember that when you post, a great deal of personal information, including the time, location and links to your profile, are usually recorded,” Kiner says. “Posting ‘anonymously’ may not be as easy as you believe.”

If you work in a large company or one with a proprietary product, Kiner says it's likely there are rules and guidelines about who can post and what can be shared. Check your company's employee handbook, as well as any public relations and social media policies.

“Small or early-stage companies may not have all of their policies in place, but that doesn't let you off the hook when it comes to posting responsibly,” Kiner says. “It's worth asking around and if there's no policy, suggest they create one. In the absence of policies, use judgment and get guidance from your superior at a minimum.”

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