Whether you focus on talent acquisition or on talent management, you have an important stake in creating and maintaining your employer brand. People will talk about your company in public at all stages of the employee lifecycle, from potential candidate to alumni; therefore, it is important to understand how those people can influence brand perception through public and online forums like social media and online review sites.

This raises several important questions, including: who has the right to talk about your brand? Where will they talk about it? And how do you make sure that you are proactively creating brand ambassadors while also responding to negative reviews appropriately?

We asked Kara Yarnot, Founder and President of Meritage Talent Solutions, and Karen Stevens, Vice President of Practice Strategy at RiseSmart, to share their insights on specific questions after a recent webinar on “Bulletproofing Your Brand” with the Human Capital Institute.

In this day and age, it’s understood that employees may use their personal social media accounts to talk about the brand—but how can we train them to protect that brand, even outside of the work environment?

Kara Yarnot: First, you must recognize that you can’t control what individual employees do or say in their personal social media accounts.  But you can influence their behavior by constantly reinforcing your brand message through regular communication.  It all starts during the hiring and onboarding process and continues through the full employee lifecycle.  By ensuring that your brand message is consistent in all candidate, new hire, and employee communications, the message will naturally become a part of how your employees talk about the company.  Of course, it is important that the brand message is authentic and represents reality for employees of your company.

Karen Stevens: I completely agree—and would add that if your brand message is not authentic, but actually different from what employees actually experience in the workplace, there is a much higher chance of employees sharing negative messages.  It’s critical, now more than ever before, to ensure that the leaders of the organization follow through on the messages they craft and create an environment that is true to the brand messages being communicated to both the employees and to the public.

Can you “curate” brand ambassadors—as in, select and train specific people for that role?

KY: Yes, you can curate brand ambassadors, and you should build a program to train employees to represent your brand on social media.  The best programs I’ve seen start with employees who volunteer to be a brand ambassador, as they tend to have a positive association with your brand and want to share it with others.  The programs often include training on brand messaging, appropriate stories and messages to share via social media, and how to respond to negative comments from others.  These programs are very impactful because they bring your brand to life through your employees.  Thus, they are received as more authentic than when your only brand messaging is presented to your HR or PR departments.

Can you control whether or not employees (impacted or remaining) will use social media to share or comment on social media after a layoff? Can you ask your brand ambassadors to respond to negative social media from their peers?

KY: While you can’t control what any employee does via their personal social media accounts during a restructuring (or any time, for that matter), you can influence them by being transparent in your communications, showing empathy for the individuals who have been impacted, and encouraging your employees to express their frustrations and concerns internally before sharing them externally.

You should make your brand ambassadors a part of your plan for protecting your brand during a restructuring event.  You can brief them on the event and ask them to participate in social media by providing their personal perspectives while reinforcing the brand message.

KS: It’s also important to respond to negative comments with reinforcements of the overall messaging.  As Kara pointed out during our webinar, it helps get the message out there.  Having an ambassador respond will balance the negative comment—and then reinforcing the ambassador’s response with an “official” response will show that the organization cares about responding to people’s concerns.

Can you terminate an employee for what they say about your company on social media or in an online review?

KY: There may be laws in individual states that cover employment and social media, so you should consult your attorney for the legal answer.  From a brand management perspective, I would discourage companies from firing an employee based on their comments on a personal social media page, as the potential backlash and damage to your brand could be great.

Do you have more questions about avoiding negative social media during a layoff? Let us know in the comments below and look out for Part 2 later this month! 

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