Publisher Channel Content by InternetReputation.com Your employees are the heart and soul of your business. They create your product, promote your company, serve your customers and work like brand ambassadors. When they’re on the job, they exemplify what your company is and what it stands for. And that stand-in role doesn’t end when your employees clock out for the day. If your employees are identified with your company via their social media sites, the things they do and say online can reflect on your brand. Sometimes, that reflection can harm your business. How it Happens Social media sites are built on a fine network of keywords. The more each site knows about you, the more that site can link you to people you know something about and share something with. So, most sites ask people to fill in the names of the companies they work with right now. Those keywords can also help your customers find out about who works with your company. Facebook is a great example. When users set up a profile, they’re asked to provide the name of the company they work for now, as well as the names of the companies they’ve worked for in the past. Users who want to find “friends” can search by company name, and if they do that, they’ll get a list of people who work for that company. People with locked-down profiles might provide very little damning information. But Velocity Digital suggests that about 25 percent of people who use Facebook don’t look at privacy settings at all. That means there are scores of people with wide-open profiles that could contain all sorts of things that could harm your business. A Real-World Example Not convinced that this could harm your business? This whopper of an example could change your mind. In April, a Texas veterinarian allegedly posted a graphic and controversial image of a cat on her personal social media account, along with a caption that implied that she both disliked cats and felt that it was acceptable to kill them on sight (media coverage is here). This post was spotted and shared, and people quickly discovered where this veterinarian worked. The clinic was deluged with calls (as many as 500 in one day) from people demanding some sort of justice for the cat. The company went through a website overhaul, discussing the incident on a flash page before users could enter the site. And as of this writing, all social media accounts of the business were disabled. Administrators of this company dismissed the veterinarian, but even so, there’s a great deal of controversy about this image, and it’s not dying down. The company continues to take calls and give interviews, and it’s reasonable to expect that the company’s revenues have been at least a little bit altered. It’s important to note that this isn’t an incident that took place on company grounds with company money. It’s something that (allegedly) happened on private time, and was discussed on a private account. But when the public is outraged, the public will lash out against the company that provides this person with employment and income. And it’s the company that can suffer most. This is an extreme example, of course, as this incident may result in criminal charges. Emotions are running very high here. But it’s clear that one person’s private actions can have a deep impact on a company’s future. So it pays to take steps to keep both a company and an individual safe. A Reputation Management Road Map In a perfect world, your employees will always reflect the best parts of your company, so even when they’re posting personally, they’re helping your bottom line. In reality, the risk of reputation damage is always there. And that means you’ll need to take some steps to keep your company safe. Here are the three steps we recommend. Step 1: Create a robust social media policy. If your employee handbook doesn’t say anything at all about proper social media use, it’s time to get writing. Your policy should contain a few key provisions: Codes of conduct. If your employees are expected to refrain from harassment and discrimination in person, they’ll need to refrain from those behaviors while online, too, especially if they choose to link their names to your company name. Disclaimers. If employees link to your company online, they should use a phrase like this on their social media profiles, “All of these views are my own.” Logo bans. Images that show your company’s logos or identifying marks can seem official. They shouldn’t show up in any social posting made by an employee. Time limits. It’s easier for people to ruin your company’s reputation when they’re posting while at work. Your company’s walls or landscaping could appear in the background of the images these people take, and that could add a stamp of authenticity to some really nasty posts. Banning social media work on company-owned computers could keep that from happening, and reminding employees to limit their cell phone use to break time could reduce the amount of time they have to spend on social activities. Step 2: Give all employees social media training. As tempting as it might be, remember that you can’t ask for employee user names or passwords. You can’t hack into their sites to read what they’re writing or change what they’re doing. But you can give them training that can help them to stay safe on social media. Consider holding a training seminar with a reputation management expert. Here, you’ll identify the very real risks that come with social oversharing, and you’ll teach your employees how to lock down their social sites. You might also help your employees to resist the temptation to post something controversial online. Step 3: Perform routine and robust reputation management monitoring. If your employees do wrong on social sites, the quicker you know about the problem, the better. That means you’ll need to do routine reputation management scans of your company name. Once you have monitoring programs in place, you’ll see a problem just as soon as it appears, and you can pull together a comprehensive program with a reputation management expert to address the issue and move forward. Keep Reputation Woes at Bay If you follow this three-step plan, you’ll help your company to avoid some of the more egregious reputation management problems that can crop up due to employee neglect and malevolence. And should something crop up, you’ll be able to handle it, pronto. If we’ve missed any techniques you’ve tried in the past, jot us a note, will you? We’d love to hear more about what worked for you. 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