The social media highway has become a treacherous place for business owners and employees if they don't navigate their posting in the right way and adopt certain etiquette. Having a social media policy isn't enough - educate your employees (including the Board!)

Many companies assume if they tick the legal and/ or HR boxes of having a social media policy, that this is all they need to mitigate the risk of social media fall-out.  Even if employees have more than a cursory glance at the policy in the onboarding stage, a list of do's and don'ts - without some interactive training - will have little or no impact to minimise the potential risk. Staff need to realise that what they say can leave a long-lasting digital trail and tarnish the reputation of the business and possible customer/client fall-out. They need to understand the nuances of language and what not to say as much as what to say. Consider getting staff to embrace the policy by participating in a training session, which analyses and debates the past social media debacles of other business folk (as well as celebrities) to assess what was ‘wrong' with the post. 

The blurry lines of personal brand and professional brand

People posting on the personal social media accounts, even with words of ‘views are entirely my own' won't avert a reputation fall-out. A few years ago, I was called up to manage a crisis which had arisen because a partner in a UK professional services firm, whilst at home and outside work hours, had posted some inflammatory words to a well-known UK  personality.

Although he posted them on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account, at the core, he was still a senior executive of a UK business and his shooting from the hip comment had immediate knock-on effect to the firm's reputation and possible client fall-out. Luckily, with around the clock crisis management one weekend, we shut everything down. But to avoid situations like that, staff have to understand the critical issue about the blurry lines of personal and professional social media posts and the impact on the company's reputation and possible repercussions.

Protected characteristics and where the law steps in

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. Put simply in non-legal terms, avoid at all costs, posting anything on social media which could incite discrimination or hatred about age, disability, gender, gender reassignment and sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy, race, religion. A charity chief lost her job because of her posts of hatred against the young Royal Family. A marketing executive lost her job because her post whilst on a trip to Africa went viral and was deemed racist. Social media platforms should not be a forum to vent anger or frustration about politics, religious, social or cultural issues. 

Avoid rising to the bait.

There are trolls aplenty on the social media highway, some who are paid by competitive businesses to target individuals in other organisations and orchestrate a public fight. Avoid rising to the bait - some people post provocative comments to raise their profile, so don't be lured to take part in their publicity-seeking exercise.

Lost in translation - tone of voice and humour/dry comments

Whilst a fleeting comment on the phone or in person can be generally be understood to not be taken literally, because the tone of voice is evident, this is what social media lack and all too often a post, without the voice, can be misinterpreted. Leave the comedy to the professionals in the arenas. What one person finds innocuous or ‘simply a joke', may cause great offence to someone else or a larger group of people.  And the fall-out won't be a laughing matter.

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