How Social Media Can Harm Your Business and Brand

By now we’re all aware of the incredible impact that social media can make in terms of brand awareness, promotions, sales and networking. However, social media is a dual-edged blade. With ongoing open access across the globe, the same lines of communication that you’ve opened to strengthen your business may become potential avenues for brand denigration. Although you can’t micromanage your company’s image online, you are in a position to help shape and monitor conversations about your company in public forums. Especially those initiated by your own employees.

The news is littered with stories about employees who use Facebook, Twitter and other online forums to represent their place of business in a negative way. Inflammatory items may include job-bashing, coworker gossip, office confidentialities, inappropriate pictures or simply making a not-so-funny work-related joke. Examples range in scale from enacting personal behaviors which are counterintuitive to company policy to posting controversial remarks about clients. Though these may not be malicious in intent, once a person is publicly associated with your business, you want them to consistently uphold its reputation in all respects, no matter how small.

The foremost thing you can do to protect your business is create a social media policy. Typically, this legal contract is enacted between the company and its employees through your human resources department. Social media policies delineate what online behavior and language is acceptable from employees and reminds them that they represent your company by affiliation at all times, whether or not they’re on the clock. But it isn’t always easy to formalize lines between a person’s professional obligations and private life. Policies should cover:

•    What constitutes social media and the public sphere
•    What type of language and behaviors are approved
•    What company data or materials are considered confidential
•    What repercussions will occur when policy protocols are breached

Most social media policies explicate that it is up to each employee to take personal responsibility for their public representation by using good sense and keeping the company’s best interests in mind. Accountability makes up 90% of social media policies.

Naturally, it’s impossible to govern every message board, every posting and every photo of each of your employees. Businesses can start by monitoring their employee’s computer use while at work, and then follow up by making sure that social media outlets directly affiliated with your brand (such as your Facebook fan page) are free from harmful remarks. Further efforts vary according to budget and business size; however, one simple way to check up on your online representation is to regularly browse for the company name and key words through a standard search engine. This action takes just a few moments of time, but the results can be a very useful for determining how your company is being showcased online and by whom.

With a social media policy in place, when/if employees come into breach of protocol, your business will be in a position legally and ethically to respond with adequate remonstration. Think about it this way: you put so much time, energy and money into building and advertising your brand—so isn’t it worth protecting? One sheet of paper with a few guidelines and room for two signatures at the bottom may be all that stands between your business’s success or failure at the mercy of social media.

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