NO! My employment brand is being damaged on Social Media!

A disgruntled former employee wouldn’t normally be considered news worthy and wouldn’t get any coverage in traditional news outlets but social media gives him a forum to voice his opinion, potentially attracting similarly disgruntled employees. Together, they form a community with the sole purpose of bringing down the organization, whether by warning prospective employees against joining the organization on employer-review forums like Glassdoor or forming Facebook groups protesting against the organization.

As other users begin to take notice, the complaints and warnings will compete with the polished corporate message. The organization’s job of controlling its brand image becomes increasingly harder as the online community grows and becomes more vocal. While it can take legal action to have the website shut the group down or remove libelous content, including videos, such action will most likely backfire against the organization by drawing even more attention to the group and its message.

Nestlé discovered this in 2010 when Greenpeace’s YouTube video linking the candy giant to palm-oil-related deforestation and orangutan deaths in rainforests went viral. Nestlé’s legal action to have the video banned from YouTube and replaced with the statement “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Société des Produits S.A.” only drew more attention to the environmental group’s campaign. The video spread to Twitter, Facebook and Reddit among other social media sites. The story was also picked up by the  traditional news media. Eventually Nestlé bowed to public pressure and cut ties with Sinar Mas and other palm oil producers linked to deforestation in Indonesia.

Social media is a paradigm shift in who controls corporate information. Careerify’s survey of 2,304 HR professionals in 2010 found 73.2 per cent view losing control as a negative consequence of social media. But if managed well, social media can be a powerful way to market the organization’s brand. For example, there are more than 13 million fans on Starbucks’ Facebook fan page. While some Facebook users might comment they prefer Tim Horton’s or Second Cup, the fan page gives those who can’t live without their venti non-fat lattes a forum where they can come together and talk about what they love about the coffee chain and potentially convert other coffee-shop aficionados to Starbucks.

An organization must weigh the risks and benefits of social media to determine if a Social HR initiative is a good fit. If the organization decides to create a Social HR initiative, it needs to accept all user feedback, including criticism. From a marketing perspective, Apple is a good example of this. As long as customer reviews don’t contain any profanity, the computer company leaves all product reviews on its website, unaltered, whether they’re positive or negative. This gives other customers an accurate perception of products and the company’s transparency builds trust and brand loyalty.

From an HR perspective, while negative posts might take some of the polish off your company’s corporate message as an employer of choice, they provide other users with a realistic view of the organization and in turn give the organization more credibility because everyone knows perfection is impossible. More and more people are turning to user reviews to uncover the truth about products, services and employers. They want the whole, unvarnished truth. And by being completely truthful about the kind of employer your organization is, you will attract candidates who like the “real” organization and are thus more likely to fit in than candidates attracted to the polished image.

Concerns raised by current and former employees also give you insight into needed areas of improvement. If you act on that feedback, you can improve your organization’s employment brand and show prospective employees the organization cares about workers, a very attractive quality in a potential employer. And if you act quickly to address concerns, you can prevent negative content about your organization from going viral and spreading across the Internet and into the mainstream media.

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