Reputation, Social Media And Your Boss

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"60 percent of business executives believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organizations in online social networks."

That was just one of many insights culled from the third annual Deloitte Ethics & Workplace survey released on May 18th, 2009. With that comes the employee reaction, where 53% responded back that their online social networking activity is not the employer’s concern. As the age of the employee skews younger, that statistic rises (63% of 18-34 year old respondents wished their employers would buzz off).

It’s going to get a lot more blurry and confusing before there is some semblance of a resolution.

Anytime there is a platform that is open and fairly democratized, institutions and companies more accustomed to "controlling the message" get worried and express the potential for corporate damages that could be associated with employees speaking their minds. In this study, 74% of executives felt that online social networking platforms make it very easy to damage a company’s reputation.

“One-third of employees surveyed never consider what their boss or customers might think before posting material online,â€? said Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. “This fact alone reinforces how vulnerable brands are as a result of the increased use of social networks. As business leaders, it is critical that we continue to foster solid values-based cultures that encourage employees to behave ethically regardless of the venue.â€?

Do you think Social Media rules and regulations will help or do employers simply need to provide clear guidelines that are in sync with the employees current NDA/employee agreement?


  1. In my opinion, an NDA means just that: non-disclosure of confidential information. Whether that disclosure happens at the dinner table or on Facebook, it’s a violation of an agreement and the employee is in the wrong.
    As for online social networking activity that has nothing to do with violating NDAs or corporate policies, well, employers can then justly recognize that employees are people with rights to freedom of speech, and not merely shills for their organisation.
    However, I think it’s within reason for employers to ask their employees to sign contracts regulating how they represent themselves as members of a company.

  2. It is my belief that employees must maintain a posture whether online or offline, that represents the values and ethics within the guidelines of their employer. Social Media allows for the immediate and infinite means to spread good news and not so good news….this could potentially be very damaging for a company if one of their own is speaking negatively or sharing ideas that are thought to be intellectual property of their employer. Look, we all have days when we need to vent about our boss or what is going on behind closed doors at work. As responsible employees, who value our jobs however we must control our impulses and “phone a friend” or go talk to yourself in the mirror…unless you are willing to be without a job in the very near future.

  3. I’ve looked into this a bit in the last little while and have dealt with it at work as well. And while not the most reliable way to measure the risks to take and it really doesn’t take advantage of all the amazing resources that are out there on regulations or best practices (I believe Charlene Li has compiled a huge list of these on a wiki somewhere) there is an easy way to manage this for the young workers joining your business.
    Look at their natural tendencies. See how they naturally tend to use social networks without the strict application of rules and regulations. If your worker naturally posts photos of debauchery, your rules and regs. won’t help. Or even if you hire someone with multiple profiles, a “professional” Facebook profile, and a “social” one, again filled with regrettable photos, that’s another warning signal.
    Because no matter how they participate while on the job, my view, is that any body who works at your company, also represents your company.

  4. If someone is representing a company, that’s one thing. But a corporation doesn’t regulate what someone does in their personal life, nor should they.
    The problem does arise when someone is already a brand online, and that brand doesn’t jive with the company’s reputation. It shouldn’t matter, but I can see why companies would get perturbed.
    In any case, rules about what you can and can’t say in a social media atmosphere are a bit ludicrous. Do companies regulate what someone says on the phone? It’s like that. You just do it.
    A rocky road.

  5. Companies will always be playing catch up. Companies will change policy in reaction to new inputs. It will be a very rare company that will craft a policy in advance of external change.

  6. I feel that rules & regulations and/or NDA/employee agreements would stifle the true employee expression.
    As with any reputation whether online or off, the key is for the employer to practice what they preach. Meaning living up to their mission, values and brand. I think many companies are concerned because there are broken links that are being communicated which is in direct conflict with their overall message.
    If the company/organization lives up to their promise, they wouldn’t have be concerned with what employees are saying online. Their employees would support and be an example of their message.
    Overall, I don’t believe there is much an employer can do. If they stifle the communication of their employees, they can’t stifle the communication of that employee’s network of friends and family. These folks can easily share online the thoughts and feelings of employees which is what happens most of the time anyway.

  7. I think that Social Media rules and regulations will help as long as there is a realistic awareness of what social media is and its potential. In order to outline the best plan in terms of rules and regulations for an organization, everybody (including the CEO) has to really get their feet wet on social media. Otherwise those rules and regulations may in deed cause some corporate damage (sooner or later).

  8. I blogged about this report recently and couldn’t help reaching the conclusion that this is – like so many social media stories – a new angle on an age-old problem. Try replacing the word “social mediaâ€? with “telephoneâ€?, and you have a debate that probably raged in the mid-60s. Most executives say they should be able to listen in to employees’ phone calls; employees say that’s not right. The same conclusion will be reached in the end as emplyees learn that social media is just another communications method – albeit an explosively powerful one.

  9. Very interesting article.
    Instead of looking at it from “right to know”, which is very defensive, I think companies should be looking at how to make the best of their employee participation in social media.
    People use social media (and email) for personal and business reasons and on the email side, companies help employees to get productive (company email address, employee directory, aso…)
    Why not doing the same on social media. ?
    There is a huge value to tap in helping workgroup leverage each team member actiity in social media, providing alignment, productivity and greater impact.
    This includes
    – defining a community engagement strategy
    – identifying ans sharing the list of influencers and communities that are priority target as a business
    – deciding on level of engagement (just listening, commenting, …)
    – sharing the workload, assigning roles
    – putting metrics in place and managing effort to results
    It can be done. It’s a cultural shift for organizations but one that can both answer to your point (people would engage under the company umbrella if there was one that’s way more productive) and unlock huge value for corporations.

  10. I’ve been blogging about similar topics lately and I think it can be very helpful to come at the challenge from a different angle.
    If you encourage employees and executives alike to think of themselves as having a personal brand in the professional work-space (physical and virtual), then you can appeal to their sense of self preservation.
    It’s to their benefit to promote their professional brand by being….professional!
    At the same time, it helps to remind people that social networks are never guaranteed to remain private–it’s just the nature of the beast.
    I used to tell my students not to email anything they wouldn’t want to see posted on a billboard. I think the same idea works well for social media.
    Freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom from thought and the reality of consequences.
    A long winded way to say: Protect Yourself! Even if your current employer doesn’t mind some antics–the economy is unstable and there’s no telling when you might be looking for new employers who have very different expectations.
    Oh yes, I also think the urge to regulate should generally be resisted–but non-disclosure is non-disclosure. Putting company business on social networks should be unacceptable.
    Thanks for the article!

  11. I believe it is about having a balance of both social media rules and regulations, as well as guidelines set out by employers. During this time where identity theft is rampant and corporate reputation is the top priority, many are wary of jumping on the social media bandwagon. But, as a current public relations student, we have been learning the important role social media plays in the workforce and the fact that it can benefit the position of a company. Social media should not be feared, but rather embraced, within a reasonable degree. By creating realistic social media guidelines and establishing a clear key message that is consistent among all employees means that when it comes times for an employee to Tweet, the messages are in sync with the company’s values. Here’s an article from The Globe and Mail about Tweeting at work

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