Almost every company has some sort of rules set in place when it comes to social networking / online behavior and the office—do not “connect” with people in the office on a personal account, do not talk about the company on a personal account, do not talk about anything that happens on a social networking account in the office, etc.
However, a company really cannot tell someone what they can and cannot do on their personal accounts if it does not involve the company. People also have free reign when it comes to commenting on different articles across the Web, and it is impossible for a company to monitor this at all times. For this reason, companies often have to deal with behavior online that may not be up to company standards.
The reason social media is so popular is because you can be yourself. You can promote something professionally and help build your personal brand, or you can connect with friends and make jokes about the crazy time you had last night. Many professionals have found a few different tactics to help keep business and pleasure separate when it comes to social media:
• Change your name on a social networking account.
• Set up strict privacy setting on an account.
• Create an entirely new account for business purposes. This will mean that each person has two accounts for each network, but it makes it harder for people associated with a job to find a personal account.
• Delete anything inappropriate as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, even if an employee is taking an appropriate measure to monitor his/her social media accounts, there is always the chance that something will slip through the cracks. Aside from social media, people often express their opinions on blog posts and other controversial topics. It is the right of your employee to express his/her opinion, but sometimes this can get ugly. So what is a company supposed to do if an employee posts something controversial that affects the company?

5 Steps to Handling an Employee’s Online Slip-up

Whether starting a business or working with a well-established company, the initial reaction of many company owners is to yell at the employee and have them immediately take down whatever was said. In many cases, this will work just fine, but there are other alternatives that may work better in certain situations. Below illustrates five steps that a company should take when dealing with an employee’s online behavior:
Step 1: Define what is considered acceptable and what is inappropriate.
Before making any judgments, it is important that you sit down with your executive team and decide what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Will you only talk with an employee or customers if there is a big outcry about what was said? Is inappropriate language okay, but inappropriate pictures are not? What if the comment or photo was on a personal account and not intended to hurt the company? There are quite a few things that can go wrong when it comes to an employee’s online behavior, so try and discuss so you’re all on the same page. Once you’re in agreement with your executive team, explain this to your staff.
Step 2: Check the facts
Before reacting to the employee or your customers, you will want to really take a good long look at what was said to determine if the facts are correct. At first glance people may be getting mad because they think something is incorrect, but look for yourself and determine if your employee is actually spreading the truth. Your reaction will depend entirely on the contents of the message (whether it was political, controversial, inappropriate, etc.), but it’s always best to know your facts before talking with anyone.
Step 3: Correct the facts if something was incorrect.
People will want to see that your company is proactive and doing something to remedy the situation if you correct the facts. You will want to make this subtle and polite so as not to draw more attention to the message in question. There is a chance that those who are upset by something that was said haven’t associated the employee with your company, so kindly correcting the facts might be all it takes.
Step 4: Talk with the employee
You will want to talk with your employee and let him/her know why something is considered inappropriate from a company standpoint. Once your employee realizes why something looks bad on a company, he/she may be able to take care of the situation themselves by apologizing or taking down the message. However, everyone has a right to say what they want to say online. Unless you have created a contract that all your employees must sign regarding online behavior, the employee doesn’t have to do anything about the message.
Step 5: Let your customers know that action is being taken to correct the issue.
If people do connect the employee with your company, you may want to let them know what you are doing to correct the issue. For example, customers or potential customers will be happy to hear that you are creating an employee training seminar or talking with the employee directly. This also works well if the employee hasn’t said anything that was untrue, making it more difficult to mediate between what was said and those that are angry.
In the end, if something like this were to ever happen the employee usually didn’t mean any harm. He/she either wrote something or posted something that was never intended to be seen by the public, or he/she thought that they were being completely appropriate. In either instance, it is the job of the employer to make sure that employees are clear on the policies of talking online.
If an employee refuses to do anything about whatever is causing so much controversy, there is a good chance that employee does not have the best interest of the company in mind. I would not recommend letting an employee go based upon one online move, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye out and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Have you ever had to deal with an employee’s online behavior? What did you do to fix the situation?
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About the author: Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer on topics ranging from social media to business credit cards. She writes for an online resource that gives advice on topics including small business loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs for the leading business directory,