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  To Control or Not to Control – Or What to Control, Why and How?
To Control or Not to Control – Or What to Control, Why and How?
Imagine your executive office gets a call from the New York Times for comment on a highly controversial social media post made by your employee. The reporter wants to know if this provocative view is representative of your organization and if it is consistent with how you do business. Soon after clients began calling, fuming over the comments. And finally a board member and a regulator call, looking for an explanation.
This is probably one of your corporate PR nightmares, besides perhaps the president firing up or firing back at your colleague’s social media post in his midnight tweets.
Like never before, it is critical to have a social media corporate policy. What’s even more critical is to have this policy develop into awareness and active thought process, a thoughtful part of your business culture that builds on your colleagues’ natural talents and interests while protecting your good name from tragic social media faux pas.
A recent controversial opinion post by a New England commercial bank’s executive vice president and chief risk officer on LinkedIn on a social phenomenon publicized by the current administration made me revisit issues I faced a few years ago due to my interests in business writing – the risks and opportunities my employers had to evaluate and decide on. Here are some of the questions they were asking themselves:
• What part of social media is truly personal and what part is professional?
• How do we balance fostering visibility through our employees for our organization, as suggested in Wired.com and other resources, with risks of posting something we and our colleagues may live to regret?
• If our employees are involved in writing, posting, or the gig economy on their time, how do we balance allowing them to develop their talents to be fulfilled and engaged employees with managing risks to our organization?
• And my favorite and very blunt: What do we control, why and how, and how do we learn about a situation before it blows up on the front pages of Bloomberg or the Wall Street Journal?

As social media permeates everything, with that come opportunities, risks and numerous business, ethical and legal implications. Suppose an employee of a commercial bank makes an honest comment about a particular investment service and creates good visibility for your bank. There’s one slight problem – one of your largest clients holds an equity stake in the service, and they are now livid about this, in their view, disparaging assessment labeling the service to be inferior to its competition. In another instance, an executive of a commercial bank makes comments in a public discussion forum that were well-received – until an activist group picks up the post and boycotts the bank for the views of the executive. Even well-intended social media activities can have unintended mishaps. The stronger and the more controversial are the issues discussed, the greater may be the reaction of some on social media.
The most fundamental questions for your executive team to answer are:
• Do we have a social media policy?
• Do our employees know it and, more importantly, do they understand it?
• Even more important, do they agree and do you have their buy-in?
• Even much more important, are employees prepared to and do they actually follow your social media program?

One the side of social activity is an employee potentially doing something foolish, inappropriate and reckless that can get her or him disciplined or even fired. There are a number of examples of bankers being fired over the last few years for racist rants or otherwise inappropriate posts, possibly causing reputational damages for their employers (e.g. Bank of America, Regions Bank, Kennebunk Savings Bank, MTC Federal Credit Union and others).
There is also another side that stems from opinions that are strong and controversial that can entangle your business in a quagmire of controversy because they may be misconstrued as your corporate opinions, especially if the individual is a senior or executive manager. That is also a dangerous side because it can lead to deep damages to your company’s reputation. What’s especially harmful in these situations is that whatever your reaction, or lack of thereof, you may be setting a precedent if you treat one employee differently from another. As one head of social media program noted, once you make an exception, others will use it against you. A 2011 social media survey by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics revealed that 42 percent of respondents reported that their organizations had to discipline an employee for behavior on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. That’s up from 24 percent in 2008, and it is logical that those numbers are even higher now in 2017 and will continue to grow.

Internal Implications
Suppose a senior manager posts views that are not agreed with by all in your organization, and the statements were not formally approved by your company. What if some team members, possibly direct reports, think differently and disagree? If colleagues speak out against these views and get into trouble, you’ve potentially created an HR situation. What if this online post gets out of control by non-employees with offensive or threatening content? Your employee was the one who started the thread and that person’s and your bank’s names are now passed around with highly damaging content. What if other, perhaps more junior, employees post something similar but now your senior management does not like it and squashes it? Now you’ve permitted something for a senior manager but went after a lower ranking employee under similar circumstances.

External Implications
The realm of clients, prospects, business partners, referral sources, regulators and other parties is even broader and more complicated to manage. They may have a negative personal or corporate reaction to your employees’ social activity, which can spill over into the business and how individuals think about your organization. Senior managers and executives must be held to the highest standard; they are your torchbearers, setting examples for employees and external parties. Some marketing and PR teams want all social media comments by senior managers to go through them, as the “big egos that can come with high level jobs” is a risk they can’t afford.
As reminded by our corporate counsel and employment matters expert, generally speaking there is no First Amendment when it comes to social media and your place of employment. The First Amendment is for the matters of freedoms of speech and the state and matters of public concerns, not when it comes to saying what you want and when you want online, if it goes against your employer’s policies (contact your attorney on specific questions though, including on the protected activity under the NLRA).
We live in the age of opinion activism with free access to the national audience microphone, 140-character comments, sound-bites rather than dialogue and rash and sometimes well-intended but ill-executed posts. Time and resources invested now will pay off handsomely by preventing costly situations in the future. A complete ban on social media does not make sense and likely won’t work. What your employees need is a well-defined written program, guiding principles and awareness, expectations, do’s and don’ts, rights and responsibilities, and resources to ask questions and get supportive guidance. Be fair to your employees and to your business!■

Neil Berdiev is a commercial banker and co-founder of DNB Advisory LLC, a commercial credit advisory firm. He may be reached at neil@dnbadvisory.com.

Posted on Friday, December 01, 2017 (Archive on Thursday, March 01, 2018)
Posted by Scott  Contributed by Scott
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