Employee Advocacy: The Importance of Laying an Ethical Foundation
Social media can be a dangerous place for companies. With so many different channels and so many different audiences, it’s important to tailor your message and adopt the tone of the platform you are sharing on.
Unfortunately, what works for some brands and audiences may not work for others. What is seen as funny or appropriate in one group can be seen as offensive or distasteful in another. Well-intentioned companies have gotten in large PR mishaps from saying the wrong thing or promoting the wrong message.
When you add employees to the mix, things can get even more complex. While companies usually have core values and strict codes of conduct, their employees rarely hold themselves to such high standards on social media.
Since people feel free to post whatever comes to mind, social media can be a dark place with controversial opinions and questionable posts. This danger lurks in your employee advocacy program. On one hand, the last thing you want is an employee damaging your company’s reputation online. On the other hand, having complete control over what employees post defeats the purpose of allowing their voices to shine in your marketing.
To avoid this dilemma, you can lay an ethical foundation for your advocacy program and set forth some basic ground rules and best practices for your employees to follow. This way you won’t only keep them and your brand out of trouble, but you’ll also establish a stronger voice and customer connection.
When you are presenting social content with an underlying attention to sensitive topics, you can still participate in important social conversations with your mission at the forefront.
The Importance of Social Media Ethics
If you’re indifferent about how ethical your social media plan currently is, all you have to do is look at some examples of corporate accounts that have posted embarrassing blunders. Their mistakes demonstrate that anyone can fall into a controversy on social media and set a fire by offending not only customers but also the general public who will hear the viral story.
These companies learned their lesson after posting distasteful content:
- DiGiorno Pizza. The popular frozen pizza brand misused a trending hashtag by incorporating it in their brand message that seemed clever but turned out to be a discussion about domestic violence. It’s always good to do some research on what you’re planning on posting before jumping on a trending bandwagon.
- Coca-Cola. In a Russian ad, the soft drink giant used an outdated map excluding Kaliningrad, which was annexed after World War II. Russians responded to the insult by spreading #BanCocaCola across social media. The lesson learned is that local advertising should always be vetted by a local resident. If you can’t find one, try to localize content in a different way.
- IHOP. The chain restaurant posted a Tweet declaring their famous pancake is “flat, [but] has a GREAT personality.” The offensive language was not received well because of issues related to gender discrimination and body image. IHOP’s attempt at being funny but failing should be a cautionary tale for any company that’s hoping to make followers laugh. Use humor wisely.
These are just a few examples of companies with poor social media etiquette and accidental mistakes of insulting or being disrespectful. With an employee advocacy program, the risk of posting this type of content is greater due to your lack of control over what employees are sharing. However, providing ethical guidelines on how you want to present your company on social media gives employees the groundwork to develop their own informative and pleasing social content.
How to Exhibit Your Ethics on Social Media?
To develop your ethics for your social advocacy program, you should: firstly, identify what type of business ethics your company stands for, and secondly, infuse your social media with those ethics. For example, it’s probable that your company has a policy against sexual harassment, so you would never want to post content like IHOP’s. After determining your baseline of ethics, you have to apply specific social media principles to your strategy. Teach your employees the following tactics to help them when deciding what’s appropriate and relevant to your corporate audience.
- Know Your Audience. If you are familiar with how your audience will receive certain humor or content, you can proceed cautiously. Even if you think your niche followers will get the joke, there is a great chance someone new to your company might not. Know the types of people who frequently visit your social accounts and try to anticipate the ones who might stumble upon it. Remind social advocates of this fact when they want to share an inside joke or any sort of commentary.
- Avoid Biases. Never take a side on a controversial issue or current event. This has the potential to alienate half of your customers on something that might not even affect your industry. People can take stands and have morals, but companies should appear objective on the majority of issues. It’s not an enterprise’s job to have opinions. If your employees feel strongly about an issue, rather than suggesting silence, encourage them to find another outlet than their professional accounts to make their thoughts known.
- Secure Privacy. Employees should know to never give or ask followers directly for private information. Educating your social advocates on common security pitfalls on social media, such as leaving an account open without password protection, helps avoid human error in cyber security issues.
- Think about Consequences. The best practice for any company or individual on social media is to think twice about the reception of a certain post. Asking, “Will this offend anyone in any way?” is a good place to start. Global and cultural awareness are important skills in this area, so it can also help to teach your employees empathy.
Ethical Employees for Improved Returns
The more ethical behavior your employees showcase on social media, the more likely that your company’s image will be in safe hands. By using ethics to guide your social strategy, you avoid any negative connotations with your brand and only contribute positive conversation. It’s better to err on the side of safety and caution when it comes to content than to take a risk that could land you in the news for offending people. Remind your employee advocates that what they are sharing and creating in terms of social content is helpful, but only if it matches your corporate ethics and goals.