How Are Your Employees Representing Your Brand Online?

If a customer walks into your place of business, the person wearing a company shirt and name tag are obviously part of your brand. And as such, presumably, you hold them to a high level of professionalism befitting of your brand.

But what happens when those employees are off the clock and on the Internet? Are they still part of your brand when they’re out living their lives amongst the digital public?

These are questions you need to consider when establishing social media policies for your company. And, be warned, there are no easy answers.

Why is it important?

If someone has been identified themselves as an employee of your company, viewers can – and often do – attribute the individual’s comments as a reflection of your brand. And given the nature of the comments being made, they can become permanantly attached to their thoughts of your brand.

An example: Joe Smith is a manager for your restaurant chain, Fried Everything. On his Twitter profile, Joe identifies himself as such. Mixed in with tweets about his family and his favorite football team, Joe defends Chick-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage and says he will support them. To make matters worse, let’s say he decides to make his comment in an off-color fashion.

Now, your name is out in cyberspace attached to the debacle that is Chicken Gate 2012, regardless of the fact that your company has never uttered the word Chick-Fil-A. Before you know it, people are lumping Fried Everything in with the controversial fast food chain and you’re suffering your own boycott.

Is that an extreme example? Yes, but I think you get the idea.

Do disclaimers matter?

But what if Joe puts on his profile that his views are his own and not those of the company? Does that make a difference?

To the person reading the post, it most likely does not. People don’t associate your company with the executives in a corner office somewhere. Your company – more importantly, your brand – is the person with whom they actually interact. Whether that be at the cash register or on the Internet. Is this case, in that customer’s eyes, your company is Joe.

People are your brand, and what they say affect your brand. Disclaimers are worthless sentences.

Where do you draw the line?

That’s where the tough answers I warned you about come in. A good starting point is to look at the policies you have in place for “working hours” and go from there. If you wouldn’t allow a behavior on the clock, you likely don’t want it associated with your brand online either.

You’ll be walking a fine line between your rights and the employee’s perceived right to free speech. Your company will have to decide where to draw the line in the sand.

Thanks for reading,

Drew Larison