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Supplier Global Resource Magazine May/June 2012 : Page 26

SGR CASE STUDY The Anti-Social Network When an intemperate ex-employee with an axe to grind makes a supplier’s social media outlets a lot less social, what are the options for addressing the trouble – and the legitimate grievances that arise from it – while maintaining an open forum? BY ChUCk ZAk A fter some reluctance, a skeptical mid-size sup-plier finally waded into the social media world and soon found a second home. With regular Facebook updates and integrated Twitter and blog feeds on their primary site, employees quickly built up a rosy online pres-ence with a steady stream of useful information, wise rumina-tions on the industry and a lot of good-natured banter. Now an angry ex-employee is trying to sully all the fun. After recently being let go due to poor performance, this individual has voiced his displeasure on the company’s Facebook site and fired off a series of caustic tweets. In them, he has made general defamatory comments directed at management and discussed sensitive details pertaining to personnel and to the supplier’s as-yet unfinalized plans for expansion. Worse, the revelation of certain perks given to preferred clients has irritated other, less favored customers. And though the supplier is loath to admit it, some ill-tempered criticisms of MAY/JUNE 2012 WWW.SUPPLIERGLOBALRESOURCE.COM its products and policies echo those beginning to gather in the company’s inbox. Now a chill has settled over the supplier’s happy corner of the Web. Social media naysayers have begun to suggest a cooling of the company’s online activity, but our supplier is no Luddite. The technology works, and pulling back now feels like both a retreat and a bad marketing decision. Still, rifts between com-pany and clients need to be addressed before anyone can return to the good old days when the biggest social media dilemma was which avatar to choose. To help our sociable supplier quell this uncomfortable tem-pest, we’ve queried four thoughtful experts from the ad spe-cialty industry, the legal profession and public relations: How can this supplier diffuse the online drama and bring peace back to its pages? SGR ’s case studies, which are composites of real industry companies and situations, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts. 26

SGR Case Study

Chuck Zak

The Anti-Social Netwo<br /> <br /> When an intemperate ex-employee with an axe to grind makes a supplier’s social media outlets a lot less social, what are the options for addressing the trouble – and the legitimate grievances that arise from it – while maintaining an open forum?<br /> <br /> After some reluctance, a skeptical mid-size supplier finally waded into the social media world and soon found a second home. With regular Facebook updates and integrated Twitter and blog feeds on their primary site, employees quickly built up a rosy online presence with a steady stream of useful information, wise ruminations on the industry and a lot of good-natured banter.<br /> <br /> Now an angry ex-employee is trying to sully all the fun.After recently being let go due to poor performance, this individual has voiced his displeasure on the company’s Facebook site and fired off a series of caustic tweets. In them, he has made general defamatory comments directed at management and discussed sensitive details pertaining to personnel and to the supplier’s as-yet unfinalized plans for expansion.<br /> <br /> Worse, the revelation of certain perks given to preferred clients has irritated other, less favored customers. And though the supplier is loath to admit it, some ill-tempered criticisms of its products and policies echo those beginning to gather in the company’s inbox.<br /> <br /> Now a chill has settled over the supplier’s happy corner of the Web. Social media naysayers have begun to suggest a cooling of the company’s online activity, but our supplier is no Luddite.The technology works, and pulling back now feels like both a retreat and a bad marketing decision. Still, rifts between company and clients need to be addressed before anyone can return to the good old days when the biggest social media dilemma was which avatar to choose.<br /> <br /> To help our sociable supplier quell this uncomfortable tempest, we’ve queried four thoughtful experts from the ad specialty industry, the legal profession and public relations: How can this supplier diffuse the online drama and bring peace back to its pages?<br /> <br /> SGR’s case studies, which are composites of real industry companies and situations, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts.<br /> <br /> April Clark-Hartley <br /> <br /> Manager, Marketing Communications, Polyconcept North America <br /> <br /> For any brand entering social media, the first thing you need to do is pre-plan. Set a policy for what acceptable behavior on your page is, but also set an employee policy. You need to communicate to your people just what the expectation is when they are speaking on behalf of the company. That’s where you need to start – educating about what’s acceptable and what’s not.<br /> <br /> Every situation is different, and it depends on what type of information is being shared. If the person is still employed with you, reach out to him directly and ask him to remove his post.There’s no cookie-cutter approach, but you can’t just delete something because you don’t like it. You need to be transparent; you’re engaging and building relationships with your customers. Why should people trust you if you’re only telling them the good things?<br /> <br /> If a certain salesperson gave someone a deal that nobody else was getting, you should have people in place address that. Maybe discuss with your executive: Can we offer this to everybody as a Facebook special? How can you turn it into something positive?<br /> <br /> Now if it’s a deal that you can’t offer anyone else or if it’s information about a launch that hasn’t come out yet, you may need to address the entire community; it depends on the content being shared.<br /> <br /> One thing people have to understand is that you’re losing control of the content as soon as you participate in social media, but that also means you hear wonderful feedback from your customers, and they impact how you market. But you can’t assume that there’s never going to be a problem.<br /> <br /> A lot of companies assemble a team with a person in marketing, an HR person, someone from the legal team, maybe QC – a group you can go to immediately and ask: How do we want to respond to this? Having things in place is important because social media doesn’t end its day on Friday. Things can happen over the weekend that you need to address. It’s not to scare anybody, but it’s always being prepared and protecting your brand.<br /> <br /> A lot of brands see social media as an inexpensive opportunity but don’t think of the strategy. You have to anticipate response and know the personality your brand has and how you want to be seen. It’s not a negative thing; it’s cautionary. Just like you would with anything else, you should always have a backup plan.<br /> <br /> April is responsible for Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America’s advertising, e-marketing, public relations, social media, promotions and collateral. She spent over 10 years in advertising and public relations agencies, including Euro RSCG, MARC USA and Brunner, and is the immediate past president of the Public Relations Society of America’s Pittsburgh Chapter. She can be reached at (888) 476-5962 or aclark@polyconceptna.com.<br /> <br /> BoB Steinkamp <br /> <br /> Owner, Ithaca Public Relations <br /> <br /> The best way to handle this kind of situation is to have a corporate social media policy in place before it occurs, which can prevent it from ever happening. A good policy encompasses many things that go beyond the scope of this situation, and actually encourages employees to be brand ambassadors.<br /> <br /> To specifically address this situation, the policy should also include specific provisions that cover: posting negative comments about the company, its employees, the work environment, clients, suppliers and contractors; and posting classified or sensitive information about the company, its operations, employees, financials or plans as well as those of clients. These are standard provisions in the policies that companies are putting into place, and it’s a very good idea to have your HR and legal departments involved in the development of it. You want to protect the company, but you also want to be careful not to violate anyone’s rights. From an internal PR perspective, it’s a good idea to have employees help write the policy, as well. This can go a long way toward increasing employee buy-in and acceptance of the policy, because they’ve been given a stake in creating it.<br /> <br /> You want to start reaching out to the former employee through the social media channels he or she is using. Do it behind the scenes with the private messaging options. Again, you’ll probably want legal or HR involved so you don’t say or do the wrong thing, but gently encourage the person to stop. Your goal here is to get the person to use private messaging, get on the phone or meet with you in-person to vent his or her frustrations, instead of doing so online. Don’t delete any of the posts on your company pages or profiles, but don’t publicly engage them, either.While they may be hurting your client relationships and causing issues among employees, deleting them will only fan the flames for the former employee and make the situation worse. Continue to reach out behind the scenes. At the same time, ramp up customer service and appreciation efforts, and work on any serious employee morale issues that may have arisen.<br /> <br /> At IPR, Bob specializes in high-stakes media relations and crisis communications. He works with clients facing negative or potentially damaging media or public relations situations and counsels them on how to proceed to help them minimize or negate those situations. He can be reached at (607) 280-3840 or bob@ithicapr.com<br /> <br /> Dana ZeZZo<br /> <br /> Vice President of Sales, Pro Towels Etc. <br /> <br /> My uneasiness is the constant desire to make social media a threat. You won’t see positive press very often about social media because the negativity is what sells subscriptions.Don’t get sucked into that because the benefits far outweigh the negativity, and that negativity is there because the people creating it are the ones most in jeopardy.<br /> <br /> People who you or I would come into contact with on social media – very few are negative. You don’t hear a whole lot of bashing, but if you did get negativity from an ex-employee, see if it’s coming up in the search engines. If it is, you have to outweigh it with positive information. Put out content about new products, new hires or awards, and drive the negativity down in the SEO stream. Feed that engine heavier than the negativity fed it, and you’ll just push it down.<br /> <br /> The second thing is to start blocking the ex-employee from the Facebook page if he just won’t stop. Before doing that, though, I would publicly respond. Be prepared to tag him back and say, “We’re very sorry that your employment opportunity didn’t work out, but we have 100 others who are happy with their jobs …” <br /> <br /> I think it stops immediately. If that person responds and says “you guys are a bunch of as***les,” the general public is going to dismiss him as a disgruntled employee and you’ve removed the onus from yourself. If you keep arguing with someone on social media, the aggressor normally loses credibility quickly. And you don’t have to spell out the etiquette; the world knows what the etiquette is.<br /> <br /> If you’re getting bad reviews, be honest: Take a hard look at your product. Does it deserve bad reviews? If it does, then here’s an opportunity to make a change and respond. Now you have an open platform that says you are going to make it better based on someone’s review. How great is that? If someone gives you a critique, you should be able to put your ego down long enough to question whether it’s valid. I think the public respects people who own up to their mistakes rather than cowards who hide.<br /> <br /> I think every single negative thing that happens on social media – if it’s analyzed by the executive team, which would include sales, marketing, HR and even production to some extent – can turn into a positive public response.<br /> <br /> Dana has been in the promotional products industry for over 19 years and has spent the past five years growing Pro Towels Etc. into one of the largest suppliers of beach and golf towels. He has quickly taken a leading role in the industry with social media and technology and has been one of the most sought-after speakers, with over 30 social media speaking engagements within the industry.He can be reached at (866) 860-1583 or dzezzo@protowelsetc.com.<br /> <br /> Lisa Horning <br /> <br /> Associate General Counsel, <br /> <br /> Navigant Consulting Inc. <br /> <br /> Presuming the company requires its employees to sign a confidentiality agreement at the time of hire or during their employment, such covenants of confidentiality generally survive termination of employment for a period of time. In this case, the disgruntled employee would be in violation of his/her covenant of confidentiality.To prevent future posts, the company may seek an injunction against the employee from posting confidential information of the company and its clients. Further, the company may seek to recover any damages it incurs from the former employee’s public disclosure of the information (e.g. lost profits if clients terminate services as a result of the information posted).<br /> <br /> Determining how traditional legal claims like defamation, more specifically commercial disparagement, in the social media setting will fare is a difficult prediction to make. Case law appears to weigh more on the side of freedom of speech than defamation; however, defamation is a legal theory that can be pursued in this context.When determining disparaging vs. defamation in social media, the courts seek to ensure that the suspect comments squarely meet the legal definition of defamation … meaning an aggrieved individual must identify, among other things, a false “statement of fact” that was published without authorization by the subject of the statement, and such statement caused damage. Further, the courts have indicated that false statements of fact must be reviewed in context, and consideration must be given to whether a reader would believe the statement to be true in the overall communication. Here, if the employee comments are corporate disparagement and all elements are met, the company may have a defamation claim against the former employee as well as other tort claims such as contract interference.<br /> <br /> Companies should ensure that they have comprehensive social media policies for their employees; however, in the end, they cannot prevent employees from expressing their opinions about them (negative or positive) on social media websites.It’s only when such comments are discriminatory, harassing, defamatory or in breach of a restrictive covenant like confidentiality that a company can squelch social medial commentary by its employees.<br /> <br /> Lisa Horning has served as an in-house counsel for large corporations for 15 years. Currently, she is an associate general counsel for Navigant Consulting Inc., an international consulting firm, where she advises on various corporate and operational issues. She can be reached at (484) 951-7165.

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