Even though we now shop online, bank online, and even find our spouses online, there are still folks out there meeting news of vicious social media attacks with, “It’s just the internet. Grow a thicker skin.”
But let an employee be candid about work disappointments online, and some of those same folks are ready to grab the torches and pitchforks.
We can’t have it both ways. But you know what we can have? Solid social media policies.
And your company needs one.
Need proof? Let’s look at a couple of problems you might encounter, starting with a case that’s been in the news recently.
Y’all have heard of Curt Schilling, I’d imagine. If not, here’s a recap. Let me warn you, though, it ain’t pretty. I usually keep it light around here. The issue I’m about to address is anything but.
The Worst Case Scenario
Schilling was an MLB pitcher for the the Phillies, the Diamondbacks, and the Red Sox. In the spirit of full disclosure, he was also a really bad video game designer — his 38 Studios company flamed out pretty publicly.
He’s also got a daughter who’s an athlete herself. She was recently accepted at Salve Regina University and made a spot on their softball team. Like any proud pop, Schilling tweeted the news.
Remember how I warned you about the unpretty? Here’s where it starts. Seriously. Assume you are going to read about some really awful things in the next paragraph and skip it if necessary.
Responses came flooding in to Schilling’s Twitter account. Some of them were teasing. Some of them were congratulatory. And some of them threatened his daughter with a sickening variety of sexualized violence. Including rape. Threats to rape his daughter. Let me repeat that: anonymous strangers told a man they were going to rape his daughter and make her bleed. They tweeted Schilling’s daughter directly, too. A 17-year-old girl, excited about going away to college and starting a new chapter of her life, treated to her own barrage of venom. You can follow this link to Schilling’s blog if you want to read the exact language, but it made me call my mom and remind her how much I love her. Just so you know what you’re in for.
Schilling ignored the trite advice about the internet not being real and not feeding the trolls and blah blah blah — and he fought back. He posted the tweets publicly, he named and shamed, and he tracked down the identities of the worst offenders. And in short order he got results. People were kicked off teams, suspended, and even fired for their misogynistic display.
The Much Less Awful Scenario
Leaving behind that terrible situation, let’s analyze one that’s merely frustrating instead of shaking our collective faith in humanity.
Human beings aren’t always happy. And that means employees aren’t always happy. And sometimes, people who aren’t happy let the world know. Maybe they just tell their friends over coffee or cocktails. Maybe they hash it out with their partner while doing the dishes. Or maybe, just maybe, they take to social media.
What if they mention your company by name? What if they mention you by name? What if they call you words not permitted in polite company?
This article from Inc. has a great overview of what sort of communication is and is emphatically not considered a firing offense. Information that an unnamed restaurant found out the hard way.
A couple of employees at this restaurant were involved in a Facebook discussion on how income tax was withheld from paychecks. And two of them were fired, one for a comment that contained a profanity, one for clicking the like button.
However, according the the National Labor Relations Board, that’s not kosher. Workers can’t be fired for speech related to “concerted activity,” which broadly means joining with other employees to improve working conditions. So the firings were reversed.
Where Does All This Leave You?
Obviously, you hope you’re not going to hire anyone who’d tweet rape threats or slam you on Facebook. But no one is perfect. So nip the problems in the bud.
Write a social media policy for your biz. Now. Today. Seriously. Go do it right now. I’ll wait.
Oh, you want to know what to put in it? Good call.
Look at the two types of situations above, and realize what you can and can’t include.
You can say: Any social media postings that are in violation of our company’s non-discrimination policies, advocate criminal activity, or that reveal trade or financial secrets can be grounds for dismissal.
You can’t say: Never say anything mean about me or my company ever.
And whatever you do, under no circumstances should you ask for your employees’ social media passwords! Not only is that banned in several states, it’s super creepy.