Social media – for all the good it can do in connecting people or promoting a brand or cause – can be a minefield.
Everyone loves being part of a winning team, and social media channels, in the right hands, can quickly pump up the excitement. But as fast as things can go right on these platforms, one wrong post by an executive, employee or even a person seeking employment can go viral, sometimes with disastrous results.
An employee can cause significant harm to a company if they post inflammatory, offensive, threatening, sexist, racist, homophobic or politically charged content to their own personal platforms. That’s because social media users are quite adept at quickly determining who that employee works for by connecting dots that are widely available online.
Once this happens, and the hashtag of #cancel or #boycott followed by your company name starts spreading rapidly, that campaign can go viral. Those who post to “cancel” the offending social media users and the companies they work for often do not make the distinction that the user was not speaking for the company.
To help prevent this, business aviation companies need to have concrete social media policies in place to ensure employees understand the ramifications of posting sensitive or confidential information to their personal social media accounts.
Where to Draw the Line
Charlie LeBlanc, vice chair of NBAA’s Security Council, said, “Companies struggle with where to draw the line between personal and business lives. Technology is blurring the barrier between personal and professional.”
Jennifer Pickerel, vice president of Aviation Personnel International and a co-chair of NBAA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, concurs, acknowledging that there are gray areas surrounding the lengths to which a company can dictate behavior concerning personal use of social media by employees.
When on company time or using company-issued computers or electronic devices, the monitoring of employees can be made easier with the use of specific software. Where the gap widens between what is legally and ethically allowed and what is not is when an employee is using their own device to post to their own personal channels.
Regardless, there are serious ramifications social media users should consider, Pickerel says.
“Unfortunately, a byproduct of online culture is the desire to ‘uncover’ or identify perceived ‘holes’ in the ethics of a company. Self-appointed ‘internet sleuths’ are often motivated to ‘discover’ an offensive act or post, or moral misstep of a company or key employee,” she adds. “And as the internet is forever, it is common to see something discovered from 10 years ago that today is considered highly offensive.
“What we say, and post online is who we are deemed to be,” continued Pickerel, “and if that content is offensive to someone else, it can spell trouble in many ways, the least of which is when that user is being considered for a new employment position. Today, everyone who uses personal social media channels needs to know that, in essence, we are our own brands.”
Pickerel emphasized that social media represents a real level of exposure for people who align themselves with extreme groups on either side of the political spectrum.
“The internet can be incredibly polarizing, and overtly posting your affiliation with fringe groups or beliefs can cause a company to question your understanding of the tone, tenor and implication of the social media platform itself,” she said. “When you choose to share this information in a public forum, with little concern for potential consequences, many companies may question your judgment, even more so than your affiliations or beliefs.”
Establish Solid Protocols
One way to protect a company against unwanted offensive social media content posted by employees is to establish clear rules regarding social media use, says Cheryl Walker-Robertson, chief protocol officer for Protocol International (US). Also, it is advisable that companies have legal counsel review their social media policies to make sure they respect an employee’s First Amendment rights.
“Having an established protocol is so important,” Walker-Robertson told attendees at the 2021 NBAA GO Flight Operations Conference, “because honestly, sometimes people just don’t know what they don’t know, and they think it’s okay because no one’s told them that it wasn’t okay.
“It’s important to sit down with key stakeholders and come up with the company’s social media protocol,” continued Walker-Robertson. “Make it easy, make it simple, but communicate it and then enforce it. And be ready to add new things to the list as our social media world evolves.”
Walker-Robertson added it is important to identify what company information should be kept in-house.
“There are some things that you don’t take outside and make public because it’s contrary to what you need for the good of the whole. I think that if we’re talking about an employee’s personal and your professional brand, they have to use good judgment regarding social media use,” she said. “What happens if they talk about the company on their personal account should be well-established as company rules or regulations that have been set, and that they’ve agreed to.”