Smart companies have always had communication policies in place that clearly defined who could represent the company to the press and who could not. Trained in the art of asking questions, journalists can often get someone to say what they never planned to unveil. Words are easily misquoted or taken out of context, which can have a significant – negative – impact on the company, as well as the individual.
Social media has brought a new level of complexity to the question, “What can employees say on behalf of the company?” New media has blurred the lines between traditional reporting and citizen journalism.
Bloggers, micro-blogggers – think Twitter and Facebook – and videographers break stories on their own but aren’t held to a code of ethics like journalists. They may or may not be reporting facts; that’s where things get sticky. If you think about it, blogging (in almost any form) is usually just one person’s opinion.
While I believe that companies should train employees at all levels to be corporate advocates, I also understand why C-Suite executives remain fearful of doing so. We have all heard stories of employees gone rogue.
We live in a social world. Rather than trying to hide from that truth, prepare your employees for it. Create clear social guidelines to help them navigate the communication waters and make clear the consequences of coloring outside the lines. Follow this up by providing training often.
Not all rules are a bad thing. They are there to help protect the employee, as well as the company reputation. An individual’s poorly chosen words might land them in the middle of a controversy they never intended to have happen. Careless words can certainly land their employer in hot water. Once the damage is done, it might be tough to recover from it.
But what should a company do when an employee knows that the policies exist, believe them to be archaic; therefore, don’t apply to them and decide to do as they please anyway?
The answer is simple… hold them accountable for the consequences of their actions.
Don’t like the rules? Change them, find another employer, or break them and accept the consequences of your choice. When you work for someone else, like it or not, the game is played by their rules – not yours.