When Twitter was still a mere egg, it was hard to imagine there would be a day when a 140-character comment made on the social media platform could result in anything more than a few likes or raised eyebrows.
But in recent years, social media posts have jumped from "private" spaces and into the public as status updates become news when a post goes viral—usually for all the wrong reasons. In fact, social media has led to the ouster of many, from politicians not knowing how to use private messaging to police officers making racist jokes to fast-food workers posting images of tampered food on the job.
You would think this spate of firings would slow down, but it hasn't. Yelp is one of the most recent companies to let an employee go based on something they posted online. In this case, an employee posted an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, criticizing Yelp/Eat24 for not paying its support staff a living wage for life in San Francisco. The same day the post went up, the employee, known online as Talia Jane, reported that she had been officially let go from the company. "This was entirely unplanned (but I guess not completely unexpected?)," she wrote in an update to the letter.
The reasons why have played out via Twitter between Stoppelman, Talia Jane, and the thousands who comment on viral Twitter spats. Stoppelman has claimed she was fired for reasons separate from the letter, while Talia Jane tweeted that she was let go because the letter "violated terms of conduct," according to HR and her manager.
How This Could Affect Your Social Media Policy
These types of spats indicate one thing: It may be more important than ever to not only have a social media policy for your company, but to make said policy as clear as possible to employees.
"Social media policy needs to be explicit and specific," agrees Laura MacLeod, creator of From The Inside Out Project. "The company needs to spell out exactly what is expected. For example, if it is stated that any public posting will be examined and should not reflect negatively on the company, you'll need to define 'public.' If I post to my friends on Facebook, that may become public because others share it. What is negative? All this should be defined and explained."
"Most companies have a policy for social media and any other communications channel that say if you disparage the company via public forum in a way that harms the brand and reputation of the company, that’s a violation of policy that can result in termination or other disciplinary actions," says Adam Robinson, CEO and founder of Hireology. "Whether it’s via Twitter, email, signs on telephone poles, etc., companies don’t want employees disparaging the company on a public stage. With that, there does need to be a balance between letting people speak their mind and saying that they can’t complain."
Finding that balance and stating it clearly may help keep your company and employees out of trouble—and out of Facebook and Twitter's trending topics feed.
"When it comes to social media policies the key is consistency," Robinson continues. "Make sure what is allowable and what’s not allowable are explicitly stated and enforced. For example, if you want to prohibit personal use of social media on company time, then it needs to be strictly enforced no matter what the situation is. This means you can’t be selective to who is held accountable for following the policy or not following it. So before choosing a policy, [ask yourself], 'Is this even enforceable and are we prepared to enforce this?' If you don’t, that’s how you end up with legal liability."
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