Human Resources: addressing negative social media posts online

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Human Resources: addressing negative social media posts online

human resources and social media how to deal Alberta

If you’re a human resources professional who isn’t sure what to do when you’ve been notified of a negative social media post (via an employee) here are steps to consider.

I read an article via Human Resource Exec Online which outlined five ways to address negative social media, here are the highlights:

* Request that the individual take down the post.
* Request that the employee not identify as a company employee on social media.
* Request that the website take down the posting.
* Take legal action against the individual responsible for a defamatory review or social-media post.
* Counter the post online.

While these steps aren’t shocking, it’s important to address the fact that there’s a significant difference between an individual who has shared a negative post vs. a defamatory post vs. an offensive post; as well as the action an organization can take when the person posting is an employee vs. non-employee.

Example:

Negative Post: My [insert company name] pay is low compared to competitors, I’d know since I’ve been offered a new job!

Defamatory Post: My [insert company name] pays the lowest in the industry so their executives can drink & gamble money away instead of paying employees.

Offensive & Defamatory Post: My [insert company name] only pays high wages to [offensive racial slur] employees; the rest of us are treated like s**t.

Let’s break it down even further.

Number 1: Request that the individual take down the post.

Employee: You cannot violate your employees legally protected freedoms. The best way to approach a thorny situation with a social media post made by an employee, is to talk to them. Be clear on how it came to your attention; if it is a negative post about the company, discuss their concerns (maybe you’ll learn something!) If it is defamatory, be clear on the steps you may have to take as an organization to protect your reputation & bottom line. It is not recommended to tell them to remove the post but you can certainly make suggestions. There are a few other factors to consider as well. If you reside in the USA, you must make sure you are complying with the National Labour Relations Act, which protects employees who discuss working conditions etc., (even complaints) via social media. (https://www.law360.com/articles/761008/5-ways-social-media-can-land-employers-in-court)

Non-Employee: Have you ever been in a situation where someone is so upset with you, but you still manage to get them to do what benefits you most? If a client or customer has posted something about your company because they’re upset with you, the last thing they’re probably going to do is respect your request to take down the post. I would also argue that this could potentially escalate the situation even further than you expected or were prepared for.

Number 2: request that the employee not identify as a company employee on social media

I’ve worked with companies where this request has been made to employees in circumstances when an employee has shared certain status updates and pictures on their private social media pages. One such incident I can recall was when a colleague reported another for sharing a bikini photo on their private Facebook page, claiming it was offensive and not a good reflection on the company. Management requested that she take the photo down. Other than an embarrassing situation for the employee, let’s break this down further: (1) someone (a colleague) who was their Facebook friend reported one of their images to the boss, rather than having a one-on-one discussion regarding their concerns. Imagine what that does to morale? To me, it’s actually a management issue not a social media issue. So other than being a tacky way to deal with the situation, as a management team you must draw a line in the sand on what constitutes a post worth getting involved in. (FYI: beware of who you friend online when it comes to colleagues!)

Number 3: request that the website take down the posting.

This one actually made me laugh out loud. Have you ever reported anything on Facebook? Twitter? Years ago there was a memorial group created for a young woman who committed suicide. No sooner had it been created were members of the group mocking this young woman on memorial posts made by friends, family & the community. The page was reported multiple times and it took Facebook a long time to react. The notion that a social site or website will jump as soon as a company requests that they remove a negative post about them is amusing – it typically won’t happen unless they’re breaking the law!

Number 4: take legal action against the individual responsible for the defamatory review or social media post

Good luck. Most Social Media sites are hosted in the USA and adhere to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which releases all Social Media companies from being responsible for user generated content posted to their respective sites. Therefore, sites like Yelp, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook (and all other sites in the business of user-generated data) safely store everything in US only, where the law exists. You must consider whether taking legal action is worth the time and resources to pursue it.

Number 5: counter the post online

Whether it’s an employee or non-employee, instead of ‘countering’ consider the idea of ‘ responding transparently’. Here’s the reality: the general public has become savvy at sussing out exaggerated claims & reviews online. Depending on the type of comment (negative, offensive or defamatory) As a company, you can deescalate the situation by responding and requesting to discuss offline. I’ve consulted with companies who would rather get into a “we’re right, they’re wrong” fight online – really?! Not a good look. Even if you are right, no one else has the same perspective, context or details – it only looks one way from outside observers.

Final thoughts:

Remember that you’ve got to balance acting in the best interest of the company (including employees) and running the company. Is it worth your time and resources to pursue? Do you want to create a ‘policing’ environment? Do you have to react to every single thing posted online? Don’t waste energy on things that just don’t matter. A negative post won’t have a lot of recourse. However, one that is offensive (violating the Charter) or defamatory has some legs. Key things to keep in mind: an employer can terminate employment at any time. However, you should consult with a lawyer before taking action to clarify whether ‘with cause’ vs. ‘without cause’ keeping in mind that there have been cases both in Canada and the USA where employees have been terminated ‘with cause’ for their social media posts; and in some instances, the cases have been overturned as well!

This is where your social media policy comes in. These types of situations can potentially be avoided entirely if your employees knew and understood company expectations online – as well as consequences. Offer your employees training on this guideline so that they understand what the expectations are of them while online (including consequences.)

Don’t wait for something to happen, be proactive!

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Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data and insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.