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Why is Employee Engagement Critical to a Firm’s Social Media Reputation?

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The Case of the Facebook Firing…

Just last week Melanie Trottman filed a story in the Wall Street Journal about a closely watched case before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) involving an employee who was fired as the result of a posting on the social media website, Facebook.  The essential issue was can an employer fire someone for saying bad things about the company (in this case her supervisor) online?

Employees have a right to talk about their employer online when they are at home.

As a CEO, this case raises some very interesting questions that can have a critical impact on your company brand, ability to attract new talent, and on the importance of having a high performance culture.  First the questions, and then I will share additional details about the outcome of the NLRB case.

Critical Questions Every CEO Must Be Able to Answer Regarding Social Media

  1. Has the senior leadership team reviewed the potential impact of social media on the organization?
  2. What are my employee’s rights when it comes to talking about the company online?
  3. Do we have an effective social media policy to protect us?
  4. What is the most effective way to control what our employees say about us online?
  5. Similarly, what is the most effective way to influence what our customers say about us online?

Let’s look at each question.

Has the senior leadership team reviewed the potential impact of social media on the organization?

In the past our brand “equity” was determined largely by traditional PR and marketing functions like event sponsorships, advertising, and media outreach.  In the future, organizations will find their brand value determined more by what’s out there in the cloud – with what people are saying about you online. The two most important sources of that web chatter will be your employees and your customers.  That’s worth exploring with your senior leadership team.  The longer you ignore this process the harder (and more expensive) it will be to get it right.  If you want some help, get in touch with us.

What are my employee’s rights when it comes to talking about the company online?

We are talking about the “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act, which has a big influence on an employee’s right to talk about their employer online from their personal computers at home. In this case, the employee, Dawnmarie Souza, leveraged her membership in the Teamsters union by having them represent her before the NLRB.

Do we have an effective social media policy to protect us?
About half of U.S. companies have a social media policy that provides guidance to employees about what is expected regarding what they say about the hand that feeds them.  This field is so new there remain a lot of unanswered questions about what an organization can actually enforce.  Regardless, having a policy that sets expectations is certainly better than not having one at all.  Even so, do you really think there is a written policy that affords you complete protection?  I doubt it.  More on this in the next question.

Since you can't control what your employees say about you online, the best policy is to create a compelling workplace.

What is the most effective way to control what our employees say about us online?
We have a biased view on this at Engagient.  While a written social media policy is likely essential (if just for setting expectations), the only truly effective way to control what your employees say about you online is to nurture a high performance culture where workers love coming to work and find meaning and purpose in what they do.  We don’t think you will ever be able to restrict online expression, but you can steer it by doing things that increase employee engagement.  Highly engaged employees say great things about their employer all the time.  They are positive buzz generators more potent than any ad campaign or job fair table top exhibit.

Similarly, what is the most effective way to influence what our customers say about us online?

So this is another tough one to “control” with traditional marketing tactics and PR.  Why?  Because for most organizations the customer experience (which we more accurately describe as a “relationship at an emotional level”) is largely determined by the actions of your employees.  The fact is the customer experience is primarily driven by the quality of the interaction they have with your employees, and if these workers are “disengaged” you will never reach extraordinary levels of customer passion and loyalty.  So here again, we are back to the key issue – “How engaged are my employees?”  If you don’t know the answer to that question, you are in the dark:  losing customers, losing money, losing market share, and wasting time.

So what happened in the Facebook case before the NLRB?  We don’t know the details other than the fact that the company has settled the case with the NLRB and separately with the employee.  We do know the following according to the public records:

The National Labor Relations Act allows employees to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and others, which was the case with Souza.

When the NLRB initially issued it’s complaint about the termination, it maintained the online posting constituted “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act and therefor the termination was illegal.

The NLRB stated that the company:

  • maintained and enforced overly broad rules in its employee handbook regarding blogging, Internet posting, and communications between employees.
  • maintained overly-broad rules in its employee handbook regarding blogging, Internet posting, and communications between employees, and
  • had illegally denied union representation to the employee during an investigatory interview shortly before the employee posted the negative comments on her Facebook page.

Under the terms of the settlement the company agreed to revise its overly-broad rules to ensure that they do not improperly restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work, and that they would not discipline or discharge employees for engaging in such discussions.

The company also promised that employee requests for union representation will not be denied in the future and that employees will not be threatened with discipline for requesting union representation. The allegations involving the employee’s discharge were resolved through a separate, private agreement between the employee and the company.

BEST PRACTICE – Get your leadership team together and get a discussion started on the issues outlined above.  Get your policy established, but don’t assume you can safely hide behind a paper policy.  Your best insurance against social media sabotage is to create a compelling place to work!

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Don Rheem’s presentation on Employee Engagement gets underneath the real “whys” on the behavior of discretionary effort. I found his examples to be relative and understandable. I see how our leaders are making better connections with the hearts of our people, so everyone better understands the goals of the enterprise.

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