How many times have you checked your social media today? If you are an average American, chances are you have scrolled through around 338 friends on Facebook, read through roughly 350 people you follow on Twitter, and check social media around 46 times per day. We meet people in person and then live out relationships online, and sometimes struggle to understand when someone chooses not to engage in social relationships from the solitary comfort of their computer. What was once a simple platform to stay in touch with friends from college has now become a multibillion dollar business. Social media is an integral part of running a business and connecting with clients but is social media harming your brand?
The internet is riddled with stories of individuals who have lost their jobs due to social media. Chelsea Welch, a server from St. Louis, was fired when she posted a picture of a receipt of a customer who refused to pay gratuity. A woman who goes by the Twitter handle @Cellla was fired from her job before she even started because she complained about having to start. A bank employee who claimed he was missing work due to a family emergency was fired when photos of him dressed up as Tinkerbell at a Halloween party contradicted his story. Each of these anecdotes share one thing in common—none of the individuals expected their experience to go viral, and when it did they were surprised anyone (including their employers) cared. The lesson here is that you can never forget the social part of social media. While you may think you are sharing, liking, tweeting and posting to only your closest friends, the impact of the internet has far reaching consequences. As an individual, your brand is only as strong as your reputation, and if your reputation online is questionable it can affect your desirability as an employee.
It’s not just what is posted on social media that is problematic but how much time is spent on social media. Consider the numbers mentioned at the beginning of this article. If the average American checks social media sites 46 times per day, that’s an average of around 3 times per waking hour. For a typical 9-5 work day that’s around 25 times. Is it any wonder that close to 30% of employers report needing to fire individuals for spending too much personal time online? As a general rule, unless it is your job to maintain your employer’s social media content, your time at work is best spent working and not connecting with “friends” online.
Your individual brand is important to protect; even if you close accounts or delete posts, once something exists in cyberspace you should assume that it is there forever. The same is true when you act on behalf of a company or organization. The same care and responsibility that you exhibit when posting on your own behalf must be multiplied ten-fold (at least!) when you are speaking for an organization.
Consider the following examples:
- DiGiorno tweeted “Because you had pizza” in a Twitter hashtag movement called #WhyIStayed, designed to bring awareness to domestic violence.
- American Apparel posted an image of the Challenger Space Shuttle exploding to celebrate the 4th of July on Tumblr.
- Entenmanns, a popular pastry brand, utilized the #NotGuilty hashtag thinking they could piggyback on a popular trending hashtag, only to make light of the Casey Anthony not guilty verdict.
Do any of those make you cringe? While all of these examples are in poor taste, they also had the potential to devastate a brand. DiGiorno, who had built a brand around family and friends enjoying pizza together, became a brand that jokes about domestic violence in less than 20 characters. DiGiorno and Entenmanns had two very different responses. While they both immediately apologized for their mistake, Entenmanns shut down twitter entirely, never to return again. Conversely, DiGiorno took time to personally respond to individual complaints on twitter and to reassure their followers that a similar mistake would never happen again. It’s unknown what fate met the individuals responsible for the hapless tweets.
When you are the face of a brand, you have a lot of power. DiGiorno and Entenmanns are huge brands that were able to recover, but make no mistake: one typo can destroy a brand.
Consider this example: A boutique hotel in the Catskills had an unfortunate encounter with some very well connected guests. Apparently the restaurant was not well equipped to accommodate guests using a wheelchair—this is entirely their fault and should have been foreseen. However, when the matter was brought to their attention, the staff did very little to make things right, causing the guests to leave. When they did so, they took to the internet to write reviews. Then they posted about the hotel on several different sites designed for individuals who are differently abled. People who had never heard of, let alone stayed, at the hotel began writing negative reviews. In the matter of a few days this hotel was inundated with negative reviews, it’s reputation completely destroyed. The staff, receiving no guidance from the management, saw their reputation suffering and began responding to the complaints—defensively. Can you imagine what happened next? The boutique hotel is closed. While the hotel was in the wrong—they should have been able to accommodate their guests—a simple apology and correction could have made all the difference.
Social media is an important tool for individuals in the job market and for any growing, or established, business. Even though using it is relatively new, care must be taken when using private or business accounts.
Keep the following in mind:
- Your privacy settings aren’t always private. It is remarkably easy to see your content so if you would never want your employer to see what you post, you probably should,’t post it at all.
- Not all of your “friends” are friendly. While it would be nice to think that we are friends with every one of our online friends, in reality we tend to only really care about a small percentage. Do you trust everyone on the internet? You shouldn’t.
- Work time is for work. Save your social media play for for your off-time.
- Check, double-check & triple check your business posts. Make sure you are acting with the best interests of your company brand in mind.
- If things go awry, respond accordingly. Ask yourself how you would want a business to respond to you. Even some of the most celebrated businesses get negative reviews, how they respond may say more about their quality than the review itself.