Employee Reputation Management: What Does It Entail?
Contributed by Jim Addison
Description: More and more companies are instituting “employee reputation management” policies, but what do these policies entail? We take a look at how employee reputation management and social media can help safeguard a company’s branding and image.
Online reputation is important—not just for individuals, but for brands as well. If something happens online that reflects poorly on a company, it can potentially snowball into an exceedingly costly and damaging PR nightmare for that business. In an age when anything can go viral, companies consistently need to be on their guard for things that might damage their online reputation. The existence of employee reputation management—a growing trend in companies everywhere—hinges upon this need.
What Is Employee Reputation Management?
The concept of employee reputation management grows out of the idea that every person who works for a brand is a face or representative of that brand. This idea has been influencing how businesses operate for years now. For instance, a big part of the reason that employers will run background checks on their applicants is as a reputational safeguard. If an employer hires a violent criminal offender and that person then goes on to hurt a customer or coworker, the employer shares part of the responsibility for the crime. In turn, that shared responsibility—or negligence, as it is labeled in legal terminology—could negatively impact how the company is perceived by the general public.
In the above scenario, the company’s reputation was damaged because one of its representatives behaved badly. Employee reputation management is a program or philosophy that businesses will use to reduce the risk of poor employee behavior hurting their brand reputations.
What Does Employee Reputation Management Entail?
As we’ve already discussed, businesses run criminal background checks to prevent violent offenders and other potentially risky hires—such as sex offenders or drunk drivers—from damaging their branding. These checks also help protect the safety of customers and other employees. In the case of a known embezzler or thief, a criminal background check might even function as a safeguard to company assets.
If there is already a system in place for weeding out these reputational risks, though, then what does employee reputation management entail? In essence, employee reputation management has evolved out of the realization that, today, brands and their employees (“representatives”) are more visible than ever before. Thanks to the internet and social media, everything is under a microscope. As a result, the chances of reputational damage are also much higher.
To minimize these heightened risks, some companies have started instituting employee reputation management policies. Many of these policies are, in essence, social media policies, establishing guidelines for how employees should (and should not) conduct themselves while using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
This article from reputation management company Igniyte looked at the growing trend of social media policies in the business world. Citing a 2014 survey conducted by international law firm Proskauer Rose, the article noted that seven out of ten employers have taken “disciplinary action” against employees over behavior on social media. The Igniyte piece also highlighted the social media policy at Ford Motor Company, which instructs employees to clarify that their posts express only their own views and not the views of the company, among other things.
The “Social Media Background Check”
The bottom line is that companies are looking at employee social media feeds. Indeed, many employers aren’t even waiting to hire people before they go snooping on Facebook and Twitter. The concept of the “social media background check” has become commonplace over the course the past decade. The idea is that employers will look up candidates on social sites to gauge their social media behaviors.
What are employers looking for specifically? Most narratives would tell you that employers want to know if their applicants or employees have a tendency to badmouth their bosses, colleagues, or clients. Certainly, companies want to know if workers are trash-talking their business on one side and cashing a paycheck on the other. An employee who criticizes his or her workplace on social media makes the company seem like a bad place to work. Companies that run so-called “social media background checks” are looking for applicants who badmouth their employers, simply because they don’t want to be the business getting badmouthed six months down the line.
However, employees who disparage the company they work for aren’t even the biggest fear that businesses have regarding employee social media use. On the contrary, the Proskauer Rose survey pointed to “misuse of confidential information” as the number one concern. 80% of all survey respondents said that they were worried about employees spoiling trade secrets or other confidential company information online. 70%, meanwhile, were concerned that employees would express personal views on social media that would later be misconstrued as the viewpoint of the entire company.
Employee Reputation Management and Employer Reputation Management: The Same Thing?
Employee reputation management isn’t all about social media. On the contrary, any negative attention that employees might receive online—such as news articles that paint them in a bad light—will reflect poorly on the employer as well. Companies engaging in employee reputation management, then, are consistently working to monitor what their employees are doing—and, if necessary, do damage control to clear up negative incidents.
In other words, employee reputation management and employer reputation management are really one in the same. For companies, it’s important to make employees understand how their actions—particularly on social media—can have an impact on how the brand is viewed as a whole. Empowering employees, emphasizing their important role in reputation management, and working to create a positive work environment will help minimize brand-hurting situations involving employees.
For employees, meanwhile, it’s important to remember that nothing posted online—whether it’s on social media, on a message board, or on a blog—is private. As a representative of the company, you need to remember that your reputation is intrinsically linked to your company’s reputation. By conducting yourself online in a professional fashion, you portray your company brand in a positive light—and protect your job security at the same time.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.