Last week I was contacted by a journalist on a UK national newspaper for my views on the latest controversy to hit social networking site Facebook.
A small number of employees of some of our larger ‘high street’ retailers had been found to have made ‘rude’ comments about some of their customers on their Facebook walls. Employers had generally taken a stern line and, in some cases, sacked those employees involved. I was asked as an issues management ‘expert’ for my view on what companies should do.
This is an example of Human Resources and Corporate Comms failing to keep up with the latest ways people communicate. Facebook is used by people to keep in touch with family and friends. The problem arises when comments are made in writing which can be deemed offensive. In the past, employees could ‘let off steam’ by talking with their mates down the pub or over a coffee – now they can be lured by the ease of making a comment on Facebook or Twitter instead.
While the brand damage caused by a couple of drunken comments was, clearly, limited, exposure on sites such as these can leave companies open to criticism.
New rules need to be written about how much influence a company expects to have over its employees in their personal time and appropriate disciplinary action taken where necessary.
But, more importantly, companies should ask themselves why their employees feel the need to vent their frustrations on such sites. Is there something management could and should be doing to listen and act on such views before they become public? Perhaps a ‘Facebook-style’ forum on a company intranet, better communications channels to management or improved awareness of customer issues could all be explored.
It may be unrealistic to expect any company to effectively police its employees comments out of the workplace. But employees need to understand the consequences of making comments which could damage their employer’s reputation. And both groups need to work out ways to tackle the underlying issues which lead to such comments in the first place.