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November 30, 2015

The Quandary of Social Media

Ian's Morning Musing image

You may have noticed the reinstatement of the Hydro One worker who was caught being outlandishly abusive to a TV reporter on camera. To say it went viral is a gross understatement, but the damage to Hydro One’s reputation is an interesting point of conjecture. Where else can you buy electricity? Whether the employee should have been reinstated or not has more to do with the legal considerations, but many of us are wrestling with the risks associated with an employee’s inappropriate use of social media.

HR social mediaQuestionable off-duty conduct that links an employee with an employer is worrisome, particularly when just about everyone with a cell phone carries a built-in camera these days. Many of us have tended to focus on the negative implications and the need to safeguard the corporate brand. Anyone seeing the Taco Bell employee licking the tacos, or the employees of the Siberian Cheese Factory bathing in a milk tub, has come to realize that social media can be highly problematic.

Many of us regularly view Glassdoor as a checkpoint to see if underground warfare has been waged on our companies. I endorse what an adjudicator said in the recent case of the City of Toronto vs. Bowman: “Once we use these devices, we load the gun, it is potentially dangerous.” I am sure the risk posed by employees thoroughly enjoying our upcoming seasonal parties, and having   “embarrassing” activities caught on camera (and going viral), has crossed your minds.

But as much as social media can present real headaches to organizations, there is another side of the story. During the frightening massacres in Paris, the airwaves were lit up when local residents immediately started to provide safe havens to terrified compatriots fleeing the area. The goodwill offered demonstrated that social media can also be incredibly supportive. This has been recognized by some companies who have asked employees to proactively leverage their personal platforms to promote their organizations as great places to work.

The risk, of course, is where an employee does something to offend the general public, or to criticize a client of that organization. The double-edged sword is that, by asking an employee to promote the brand, it might open the door for the courts to interpret that the organization has condoned all of that employee’s activities on social media. One misstep, by one employee, could cause huge embarrassment.

However, I think the inherent good nature of most people does pose an interesting opportunity for us. Is there a way to foster and encourage employees to help each other, in much the same way as the Parisians did? Could employees care enough about one another to step up and share their knowledge and expertise with others?

There are organizations that have created intranet sites to share information, problem solve and more. But my own sense is that many people do not carry a heart-felt desire to help their peers and can also justifiably claim that time is too great an inhibitor. I also question whether the competitive nature we have fostered in organizations with ratings and the like, make this unlikely to happen?

The community in Paris closed ranks against evil and rallied together. How awesome would it be if our organizations were more like communities, truly united and caring for the welfare of the whole, not just geared to individualized recognition? Finding a way to capture and nurture the goodness in people would be quite a feat.

How can senior leadership and HR create organizations more like communities?
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About the AuthorIan Hendry headshopt
Ian Hendry is the president of the Strategic Capability Network. In his Morning Musings, he provides insight on issues facing today’s business leaders and looks at subject matter related to upcoming SCNetwork events. He is also VP HR & Administration at Interac Association.


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