Could your staff’s social profiles damage your public image?

If your team’s social media profiles are particularly racy, or not in line with your arts organisation’s values, could it damage your brand? Our tech columnist Cat Leaver gives some tips on practical policies you can put in place 

It really comes down to two key (yet fairly intangible) elements: trust and sense. Omni-present digital technology and connectivity has resulted in a somewhat desensitised and reckless internet user community. Older generations, who for years have torn up their bank statements before binning and been cagey with personal details to any-one bar family, now willingly hand out enough information to steal their identities on a weekly basis.

What’s more, we’re witnessing unmonitored youths accessing scary amounts of data and entertainment well beyond their years at the click of a button and happily publishing personally compromising information for anyone to see. In this modern world, any individual who makes use of social media needs to be fully conscious that everything they post is permanent and could be public, no matter what privacy settings they have or how many posts / pictures they delete. As soon as a piece of content enters the World Wide Web, we effectively lose any control or ownership of it.

‘A little controversy is not always a bad thing… your staff’s individualism could add a real quality and personification to your organisation’s image’

When it comes to the workplace / personal divide, there’s a certain degree of trusting the public to be wise enough to distinguish between these two personas and what is appropriate in each context. Everyone has different sides and we tend to show the best version of ourselves in the workplace (or at least I’d hope so). As a successful organisation hiring professional adults, you’d hope that your employees are just that: professional and adult. Depending on the type and structure of organisation you are running will affect how you handle your staff and how well you all contribute to the same goals and ‘brand image’.

Where employees regularly support your organisational social communications, ie shares and retweets, it should be brought to light that they are then actively associating themselves with the institute and must take a certain degree of care in how they conduct themselves. In saying that, a little controversy is not always a bad thing. I’m not suggesting you let your employees run rampant or be abrasive to your audiences, but their individualism could add a real quality and personification to your organisation’s image.

Your people are as much a part of your organisation’s story as your business itself or your audiences. You should be celebrating what makes them unique as individuals as much as the qualities you all share. Whilst your organisation (and direct audiences) may be more conservative, your head of education, for example, may attract an edgy new audience or engage with your existing audience on a different level.

Cat Leaver - Alienation Digital
Cat Leaver is marketing manager at Alienation Digital

For smaller organisations, being treated like an adult is often enough to make someone act like one. But, we all make mistakes and we can’t account for all extremities. There are some fairly standard guidelines you can implement in recognition of the fact that while employees are entitled to their own opinions and expressions, they may be publicly recognised and associated with their place of work.

In your organisational social media guidelines, set out that if your employees refer to the company in their personal social media profiles they must put a disclaimer, such as ‘all views are my own and are not representative of my place of work / X organisation’. You can make staff aware that even within closed private networks messages can be shared further and, as a result, to be thoughtful of what they publish into the online space. Clearly state that no sensitive or confidential information is to be shared via any social media channel, private or otherwise. You can explicitly state that disciplinary action will be taken against any employee who breaches your social media guidelines. Some of these statements may seem harsh but they are increasingly commonplace.

You’ll see these kinds of guidelines in all sorts of organisations’ Social Media Policies, from big corporations to universities or public sector bodies. There are some fantastic sample Social Media Guidelines here for companies ranging from Adidas to the BBC, which can help you when creating your up-to-date and comprehensive policy.

I think we sometimes forget that these issues existed long before the internet came into the mix. Employees have always had lives of their own outside of the workplace, and while they may have been less publicly accessible before, they still presented similar challenges. The average consumer will recognise that your people are real people and that they cannot realistically hold you responsible for anything and everything that each individual you employ says or does during their personal time.

At the end of the day, the types of guidelines I have outlined are just a continuation of your standard ‘conduct at work’ guidelines and should simply aim to remind your employees that you are entrusting them to act as an extension of your brand and represent the good values you stand for in the digital space. Finally, I think it is important to remember that when it comes to the voices of your staff members, there is only so much you can and should control.