A Case for Employee Social Media Training

Companies, listen up. If you’re not already factoring social media training into your human resources list of employee initiation rites, you’re making a huge mistake.

I’m not talking about making a bunch of strict guidelines. You can do as much or as little as you feel you must, given your customers, public or private holding status, your industry, etc. But unfortunately, especially for a lot of younger people, they need guidelines in common sense so they don’t unnecessarily tarnish your brand. And if they deliberately tarnish your brand, I’d show them the door. Too many great, displaced, laid off workers are out there and you can do better.

A link is going around right now to a blog post called Starbucks Employees Publish Inappropriate Pics of Customers Online. Apparently an employee has a Flickr set of personal photos called “87th & Sunset: Life at Starbucks.” It should be noted that these photos are several years old – I think this employee has moved on and left these in his archives. I don’t have any idea whether Starbucks has a training program for all employees in place or not, now. This scenario is a great example to learn from.

While it’s within an employee’s right as a human being with free will to document photos and put such captivating captions on them as “You’ve got to take a few ass shots on unsuspecting hoes, you know?” I question whether a brand like Starbucks should reward this fella with a job. (He was working for them when he posted to this collection regularly.) Starbucks, it’s no secret, is already struggling to survive the economic downturn. They need no help from an uninterested, apathetic employee to tarnish their brand in my opinion. If your employees don’t have your back and you need to make some changes in your approach and culture, listen to them and do it. But you don’t have to put up with providing continuous fodder for people you pay to damage your brand with. Write a final check and cut the documentary photographer free so he can take photos of people doing other things, like job-hunting with him or struggling to pay bills.

I feel horrible for the customers he served at this particular Starbucks. Imagine knowing how bitter the people serving you are, and how little they actually like you? I am not a stranger to this chain – I visit the drive-thru as often as I go inside and have probably hit a Starbucks in every city I’ve ever traveled to. I certainly would feel funny knowing some smartass barista or anyone else who worked there was snapping my picture, making hateful comments about me or laughing and pointing out my many obvious flaws. After all, we go in for a cup of coffee or maybe a snack, not for a blow to our self esteem. I pay way too much for what I get there to put up with that!

The dude, for reasons I can’t imagine, that posted these to Flickr said he had an obscenely long career at Starbucks. Was the manager that out of touch with his attitude about working there? One can sense the disdain for both his employer and his customers in a matter of moments looking through the photo set. This is what happens when you do NOT institute broad-based employee training and ask them to clean up their online act.

It’s unreasonable to expect:

  • Employees not to tweet, post to Facebook, Flickr, YouTube or any other social site
  • Employees not to occasionally have a work gripe that gets aired
  • Employees to turn over the keys to all their social sites so you can monitor them like Big Brother
  • Employees not to want to share/bond with colleagues via pics, funny videos, etc. (not all the pics in the Flickr set used as this bad example are inappropriate or problematic)

It is reasonable to expect:

  • Employees will not deliberately bash your brand on public forums and if they do they run the risk of losing their jobs
  • Employees will make sure their personal artifacts online don’t tarnish your brand and they will clean up what does, if their name is associated with your company
  • Employees will realize they are representatives of your company whether they’re on the clock or not, and behave with some decorum
  • Employees won’t bash, disrespect or call customers names
  • Employees won’t threaten customers
  • Employees won’t do things to deliberately humiliate customers, such as take their picture or video them without permission

There are only 3 months left in this year. If you do NOT have a training program in place, get it in place by 2010. You don’t have time to waste, and it doesn’t have to be hard. You can make improvements as you go along. Start with your managers and make them responsible for ensuring employees do the right thing when it comes to both playing online AND collecting a paycheck from your company.

If you just don’t know where to start, contact me. My team or some of my colleagues can help you get something in place swiftly. No excuses… stop harmful stuff like this dumb Flickr set before it hurts you. These pictures were taken in 2005-2006 and yet they’re making the rounds today, three years later on Twitter. Social media monitoring can make finding online assets easier and quite a few products exist to help you do this.

If you don’t think you need a social media training program, you need to ask yourself this: Is losing one single customer worth not asking an employee to show reasonable restraint online? I don’t think so. I value the people that hire us to do things for them. People doing business with you is an honor – they have choices and other things to spend money on. Make sure every last employee knows and cares about that, or replace them.

  • http://www.richlazzara.com Rich Lazzara

    Kris, excellent post. This is very important. What’s currently happening is that companies are hiding from it hoping it will go away. Then they are usually faced with crisis control when something negative happens. That’s when the training is considered, after the crisis. Companies, get ahead of the game and be proactive.

  • http://www.inclinedesign.info Caroline Di Diego

    Understanding SM as part employee training is becoming increasingly important and especially so, since Google never forgets :-) But what if something was done years ago as in your example, new biz opportunities will arise in the Reputation Management space for sure, however not before a lot of damage is done.

    In the mid 1990′s when helping companies embrace email, it was part of our training to emphasize how to only send emails that you would be comfortable having on a billboard on the way to the Airport or being read in a court of law! Anything else, pick up the phone and say it in person as emails can be stored for a long time and come back and haunt you ~ so true. Same with Social Media ~ I hesitate to think of what is being posted on FB or said on twitter that will come back to bite the originators, and bite them hard. Given that a mistake in judgement has been made, I’d like to know how you guide clients through damage control? Maybe a subject for another post? @CASUDI

  • http://www.freelancewise.com Juliet | Freelancewise


    Very interesting article. I believe some company’s screen candidates on the web to see what they may have written etc. Having company social media guidelines is a good next move.