What is the quickest way to make oneself an undesirable candidate for future employment? What is the quickest way to damage your brand reputation? To answer the first question, it’s as easy as writing a blog post where you slam your former employer for i) firing you over email and ii) proceed to detail your grumbles about working there including how you forgot to fulfill part of your duties during the closing shift. And to answer the second question, it’s as easy as playing out a corporate drama on a social network for the world to see.
A local blog was making the rounds on Twitter today because of such a post written by a recently fired restaurant employee. The blog post may be deleted soon but the details don’t really matter. What does matter is how this managed to become both a PR debacle (and possible *boon* for the business in question?) and an HR fail.
In this day of social media, it is so very easy to take out one’s frustrations with a nasty tweet, a heated Facebook post, or blog post. What one must understand is that hitting the ‘send’ or ‘publish’ button has far-reaching repercussions. What could have been an obscure blog post had turned into a lightning rod showcasing all that is wrong with HR practices (or lack thereof) for small businesses, the type of entitlement that makes people cringe and helps erode sympathy quickly, and how social media can make mountains out of what should be mole hills.
According to the blog post, the (former) employee in question was fired via email. Firing anyone by email (or via videoconferencing like the movie Up In The Air depicted) is just not good business. And it’s poor HR practice. This is what happens when small businesses are stretched thin or just ignorant about how a lack of HR can harm the growth of their business. Most small businesses don’t have HR experts on-hand or on retainer to handle sensitive situations and business owners are ill-equipped to deal with them. In this case, the former employee decried the restaurant’s lack of a formal training process and it sounded like she was left to her own devices to figure things and find a groove. While this may work for some in the short-term, we all know that operating this way will only create chaos and complications as time goes on.
The blog post quickly went viral. The company took to their Facebook Page to offer not one, but two, apologies for their handling of the situation. Comments on both the blog and the Facebook Page were stacking up. Prior to closing the comment feature on the blog, many were vowing to boycott the restaurant. On the Facebook Page (which grew by a few thousand “Likes” via this bad press surprisingly), comments ranged from mild support for the restaurant to outright hostility directed at the former employee for her “whining” and “sense of entitlement”. The restaurant posted they had contacted their lawyers regarding the offending blog post. It was not pretty nor the type of “news” one would want to have associated with his/her business. It pitted both parties against each other, and while each probably made mistakes, it quickly became a mountain when it should have been a mole hill.
Did the blogger think beyond the next 24-48 hours? Not likely. But forethought must be applied to anything that will hit the social media airwaves. She not only signed her name to the blog, but Google doesn’t forget. More and more recruitment firms are using social media as way to scope out potential employees. What she did (regardless of whether she is factually correct or not) will likely not appear attractive to employers. Has she harmed her future employability? Did the restaurant realize how immature and inappropriate it is to use their Facebook Page as a verbal boxing ring for comments regarding what should be a private matter between them and the former employee?
Here are five easy guidelines for any small business to protect them from this type of negative situation.
5 simple tips for HR and PR in the age of social media:
- Never fire an employee over email. Or text. Or any other form of non-human contact. Sensitive issues require diplomacy and tact. Employ those two things when dealing with employees.
- Never slag a former (or current!) employer on a social network. This may seem like common sense but people are being fired daily due to their posting of inappropriate, proprietary, or sensitive company information. Regardless of whether the complaint is warranted, it reflects poorly on the poster and jeopardizes future employment.
- Hire professionals to deal with areas that require expertise. Hire an HR consultant to deal employee issues such as hiring and firing. Consult with an HR expert about best practices and employee relations. Craft an employee handbook. Then follow it.
- Hire a social media and/or PR strategist to deal with managing brand reputation and customer loyalty. In conjunction with this strategist, craft a corporate social media policy. Then follow it.
- Never use social media to address a sensitive situation or customer complaint. And do not use it to attempt to resolve a conflict, whether it concerns an employee or customer—take the resolution process (and any inherent drama) offline. Do not let a heated, dramatic exchange between the two opposing camps play out on your Facebook page or Twitter account. It never plays out well and is both confusing and uncomfortable for those visiting your social networks and unaware of the drama.
Have you seen examples similar to this? What would you have done differently if it were your business?