Social Media, Employees and Reputational Risks | Michael volkov


Organizational risk does not exist in a vacuum – social forces have a direct and immediate impact on business risks, especially with regard to employee behavior. Social media has transformed our society, making information sharing instantaneous. For businesses, social media risks exist on internal communication platforms and on individual employee platforms outside of work. Many companies find the problem so difficult and complex that they actually put their heads in the sand and hope for the best. Hope is not a risk mitigation strategy.

Businesses need to be cautious in this area. The complex set of risks can be mind-boggling. Businesses need to recognize the importance of data privacy risks, human resource issues, and ultimately significant reputational risks.

A fundamental requirement to mitigate risk is to establish a comprehensive social media policy. But this policy has one important limitation: it governs communications on company-owned platforms, which means that it does not extend to the personal accounts of individual employees. However, employees are often prohibited from accessing their personal social media accounts from their company devices and spending unreasonable time at work on their personal accounts.

Corporate social media accounts are controlled by communications and public relations employees. Employees who respond to or comment on posts or comments should adhere to basic social media policies.

Individual social media activity on personal accounts presents significant risks of misconduct. Employee surveys consistently show that a large percentage of employees spend some time at work on their personal social media accounts. In this regard, employees can use their personal devices to conduct such activity. This raises significant risks that businesses are unable to monitor or regulate. HR managers can only act in response to egregious situations where employee performance suffers as a direct result of employees spending a lot of time on their personal phones. If a company has a BYOD policy to allow business and personal use of an employee’s personal devices, the risks are compounded.

The COVID-19 pandemic and working from home arrangements have made compliance in this area even more complex. The line between work and staff was blurred by difficult working arrangements. Social media compliance policies were even more important in providing instruction to employees on permitted behavior.

Employees posting content about their company to their individual social media accounts is a very common scenario. It has been estimated that nearly 50 percent of employees will post content about their employer on personal social media accounts. Regardless of the channel used, employees are subject to certain restrictions such as the disclosure of trade secrets, intellectual property and other restrictions on the disclosure of confidential and proprietary information. When employees communicate about business issues outside of these clearly restricted topics, employees can present reputational risks. For example, when an employee complains about an anonymous supervisor in their company, this information can damage the reputation of the company. Monitoring this activity is virtually impossible given the widespread use of social media for all human interactions, business transactions and social transformation.

Consider these important survey trends: two-thirds of employees regularly check their social networks at work; 75 percent of employees check their social networks at least once at a time; almost half of employees consult their social networks at lunch; and a third consult social networks during breaks at work.

Employees who promote the company’s branding on their individual accounts can be a force multiplier for the company’s branding. Employee branding messages far exceed the reach and success of corporate social media accounts and strategies. In other words, if employees are promoting company messages, the reach of their individual accounts can have a huge impact on company messaging efforts. For this reason alone, a social media policy as it educates employees can bring positive benefits to employee conduct on individual, non-professional accounts. This can be of real benefit to the company’s promotional and messaging efforts.

The downside is obvious. Employee misconduct or inappropriate messages can have a real negative impact on a company’s brand. It’s the delicate balance that businesses face in the age of social media communication.

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