It’s 11 pm. Do You Know What Your Management Team is Tweeting?

Companies increasingly find themselves in the midst of unparalleled social and political upheaval. From the #MeToo movement, to last summer’s widespread condemnation of racial inequality, to reassessments of corporate political contributions following attempted insurrection, companies are weighing in on cultural and political issues like never before. In the words of CNBC’s David Faber, we are “seeing corporations do [things] that we hadn’t typically… oftentimes moved by their workforce and by their workers who are demanding that they be a part of change… this is an extraordinary period of watching corporate America respond.” We applaud companies that take principled actions and believe a company’s articulated values are an increasingly important aspect of customer, employee and investor relations.

Companies that take a stand on cultural and political issues are expected to embody the values for which they stand.  This means that the opinions, behavior and values of your management and employees – whether in the form of donations, social media engagement, or participation in politically motivated groups – can affect your company’s reputation as never before.

In the past, actions taken or comments made by an employee outside of the workplace often had little or no impact on their employer, except perhaps in the most extreme examples (e.g., criminal activity). But these lines have become increasingly blurred – particularly since the nature of social media means “private” activity can become a public issue quickly. As we saw last spring with the dog owner who called the police on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park, it’s not difficult for the public to identify an individual’s employer in a matter of minutes and demand action.

What can you do now to mitigate this reputational risk?  Here are a few steps to consider.

1.       Dust off your social media policy

Most companies have a social media policy, but many have not updated it in years. When was the last time you gave yours a good review?  For many companies, now would be a good time to consider whether your policy fits with today’s political, cultural and technological environment.

2.       Clearly communicate and frequently remind employees of the policy

Frequent reminders will demonstrate – unequivocally – that compliance with your social media policy is a priority for your company. It will also help ensure the policy is updated on a continual basis as the landscape evolves. Ensure the policy is clear and readily accessible to all employees, and address questions as they arise.

3.       Develop mechanisms to enforce the policy

A policy is useless unless it is enforced. What mechanisms can you put in place to ensure compliance? Do you have resources that oversee your organization’s online reputation? No one wants to become the “social media police”, but the fact is that much of the potentially problematic behavior is out in full view, and knowing your risks may provide an opportunity to address situations before they escalate.

4.       Consider the consequences for policy violations

Postings involving things like hate speech or illegal activity will often have clear-cut consequences, but it’s also important to consider “gray areas” – for example, commentary that does not break the law or overtly breach your policy but is misaligned with company values and reflects poorly on the organization. Do you have a framework for evaluating the right course of action?  Do you have a playbook for how to communicate any disciplinary actions taken internally and externally?

5.       Ensure you are prepared to respond to a real-time incident

Even the most well-prepared companies are not immune to the damage that can be done on social media – often with lightning speed. The knee-jerk reaction of a single individual could have extensive ramifications on your company and your brand if not addressed promptly and thoughtfully. Ensure your crisis preparedness plans contemplate how you will respond when an issue arises on social media. Develop messaging that articulates your organization’s values and explains the policies you have in place, and ensure a team is equipped to expand upon these materials in real-time and respond promptly and effectively.

Having a clear and comprehensive social media policy in place, along with the proper mechanisms to implement and administer it, will help companies navigate the inevitable turbulence in today’s social and political landscape. A forward-thinking PR firm can help you navigate some of the more complicated and nuanced issues that may arise and ensure that your organization is prepared to respond to a real-time incident.

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