With nearly three billion internet users worldwide, internet users today spend more time on social media than on any other site. A study conducted in July of 2014 showed that Facebook alone has over 1.3 billion active accounts, while Google+ and Linkedin both listed 300 million, and Twitter followed with 255 million. These numbers are staggering and they only continue to grow, not only for personal accounts, but also in the workplace.

Social media is a great tool for finding a job, furthering a career, launching a product, or just testing a brand’s market, to name a few options, but it can also reveal a negative, less professional side of an employee and cast a pernicious glow over an employer’s head. Some recent social posts that led employers to fire their employees for their comments range from a waitress shaming customers on Facebook for being bad tippers, to a nurse’s insensitive share on Instagram, a Detective’s comments on Facebook about people on public assistance, and a PR-rep’s racist tweet on AIDS.

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Although these are just a few, it is obvious that social media users are taking to the internet in droves to voice their opinions with little concern for their audience or privacy, little thought on how their post might reflect on their affiliations, or the ramifications from such impulsive and public posts. This is bad news for your business.

In cases such as these it is important to recognize that the rules of social media are changing when it comes to business relations. While it is nearly impossible to control the rapid social evolution of a culture, steps can be taken to manage and protect your online reputation.

Establish Basic Guidelines

Since many companies encourage or even require their employees to actively post on social networks, it is important to set some ground rules when it comes to posting in the workplace and for the business. The most important being: no discussion of sensitive or objectionable topics such as politics or religion; no obscenity, ethnic slurs, or sarcasm; no online disputes; and no conduct unbecoming of an employee of Company X.

Employees who utilize social media to discuss work related issues or topics should also clearly identify themselves as a representative the company as defined by the Federal Trade Commission. When publishing outside of the company, they should write in the first-person or provide a disclaimer stating the posts on the site are their own and do not represent Company X’s position or opinions, etc.


The fact that there exists a gray area between “work” and “social” is reason enough for training. This is why it is so important to be very specific and explicit about what is required when posting on social media for the company. Training employees in social media behaviors can also create a sense of alignment with the brand, which can only lead to amazing things for the company. The more confident your employees are utilizing social media platforms, the more frequently they’ll engage and share content; in turn a trustworthy voice will emerge for your customers who will find it easier to spend on the brand, not to mention saving your company money on marketing or advertising campaigns.

Create a Social Media Policy for Employees

This is one option that many companies employ, but it is also the most controversial for reasons of free speech and imposed limitations. If your company chooses to go this route, meeting with a labor lawyer is encouraged to understand the current laws and to determine what, if any, restrictions are safe to impose on employees. This will also prevent any unwanted lawsuits or large legal fees.

Prepare for the Worst

The examples provided above only show the result of these posts, but one can only imagine the frantic scrambling within the company to get ahead of these events. With that in mind, it is crucial to have a strategy outlined for events such as these. Here are some suggestions on how to react:

* Don’t write when you’re emotionally charged. It is only normal to feel defensive or upset, but step away from the computer to gather your ideas rationally and outline a response before hitting the send button. Making emotional responses to negative customer reviews or issues is one of the worst and most detrimental ways to represent your business.

* Never ignore a complaint.
This can only lead to more online troubles. The best idea is to send a brief message to the complainant acknowledging their complaint, apologizing for their experience, advising them that it is being investigated, and that someone will respond with a resolution as soon as possible.

Customer complaints and negative reviews are an excellent opportunity to publicly display your concern and willingness to go above and beyond in pleasing your customers. You can’t please everyone, but you can at least show you’re willing to try, which can build a great reputation for your business.

*Contact the customer directly, if possible. Any opportunity to take the conversation offline and make it a more personal interaction is always a coup for the company.

The long and short of this is to be prepared, be mindful, and be educated as a company. No one is exempt and no one is perfect, but the more your company is cognizant of the potential for public shaming, the more control you’ll have over your brand and reputation.