While social media can bring huge benefits to your company, it can also put your business’ reputation at risk. A single ill-judged post or message can bring your whole reputation into disrepute, as well as potentially causing your company to be questioned.

How it can go wrong

There are a number of high-profile cases which illustrate how online activity can backfire on your reputation.

In September 2015, 27-year-old Barrister Charlotte Proudman tweeted a LinkedIn message exchange between herself and 57-year-old solicitor, Alexander Carter-Silk. In the message, Carter-Silk commented on how Proudman looked in her profile picture and both were publically criticised in the press.

Proudman was condemned for publically shaming the married father-of-two, while Carter-Silk for sending the message in the first place.

As a business professional, you can use LinkedIn to share skills, develop your career and market yourself on a professional level. Not only did Carter-Silk risk his own reputation, but he’s also the ambassador of his company, Brown-Rudnick. They were forced to make a public apology – putting their own reputation into jeopardy.

Proudman made a similar error; as she didn’t anticipate that a single tweet would cause such widespread controversy and put her own reputation at risk.

The internet is becoming increasingly accessible and it is often used by senior professionals who have limited or no previous experience on social media. People need to be educated and trained to understand the potential harm social media can have.

In December 2013, a Lacoste employee lost his job for posting his pay check on Instagram. He claimed that he was showing his frustration at the cost of living in New York, but he had broken Lacoste’s confidentiality agreement and was relieved of his duties.

Other examples of how social media can damage a company’s reputation include HMV, which reportedly let go of over 60 employees – some of whom still had access to the company’s official Twitter account. The employees then live-tweeted the whole scenario, leaving HMV in a precarious position online.

As an employee, you should be aware that by including your work details on a social media platform, you are essentially wearing a uniform in public; you’re representing that company, so shouldn’t do anything which could damage its reputation. This includes posting offensive content, being too opinionated and posting confidential information online.

Preventing and dealing with a social media crisis

Setting clear rules, guidelines and actions is of the highest importance to ensure that staff are all on the same page when it comes to dealing with social media.

By creating a social media policy for the company, you are minimising the risk of an employee threatening your reputation. Here, Igniyte gives some tips for avoiding a reputation crisis caused by social media:

  • Set clear guidelines: This should indicate the way your employees interact with any connection they’ve made through work and the ways in which they talk about the company.
    Of course, employees’ accounts are personal to them and should remain as such, so there’s no need to bombard staff with rigorous rules. You should make it clear to staff that need to comply with certain rules when using social media which prevent your company’s reputation from being put at risk.
  • Circulate and monitor the rules: It’s pointless setting rules and not following them up, so make sure everyone is aware of the rules and any changes by circulating them regularly.This should encourage staff to escalate another employee’s online activity if it’s deemed to be unacceptable. Your company should also have resources available to monitor activity, to ensure that standards do not slip, but you shouldn’t overdo this and panic over small issues.You can set up Google alerts to monitor what people are saying about your company, or simply create a list of your employees on social media to monitor their activity from time to time.
  • Respond swiftly and appropriately: If something does happen to bring your reputation into jeopardy, then it’s important to respond in a timely, suitable manner. There are various cases where a prompt response has not only solved the problem but even turned it around to a positive situation.DKNY responded to criticism on Facebook by donating money to an appropriate charity, while O2 is another brand which responded in a positive way to defuse a situation on Twitter.

Protect your reputation

It’s essential that your company has clear, well-communicated and enforced policies in place that unmistakably set out what’s acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.

Most online issues begin offline, so by ensuring that your staff are educated about social media and its potential pitfalls, you can minimise the risk that social media can pose to your company’s reputation.

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