Ten years ago, when employees had grievances, they would complain about them to their families or friends. Today, employees increasingly turn to social media to air these issues. Social media networks have immense power; and can cause considerable damage when used maliciously by a disgruntled employee. How should a company respond?

It almost goes without saying that the best way to combat negative comments from being shared on social media is to prevent them from being posted in the first place. Companies need to take a good look at their culture. Start by treating employees fairly and with respect. Empower them to take pride in their work.

Some organizations try in vain to thwart this threat by denying their employees access to social media while they’re at work. That’s not effective; they have computers at home. These policies actually make matters worse by setting a tone that seems dictatorial.

Instead, when someone does go to a social media site to complain, a company can contact the site where it was posted and consider putting up a rebuttal. If the criticisms are valid, they may need to take a deep breath and just ignore them. But if not, they should take steps to have their version of events out there as well.

How should HR respond?

How HR responds to negative social media comments will vary widely based on the situation. It depends for instance on the information that was shared. If it was someone just venting, if they weren’t sharing confidential details about the organization, then there may be some career coaching services that can be offered. The HR manager could meet with that employee and say, “I happened to see your post and I’m just wondering if there’s something that we could talk about that might improve your situation here?” The HR manager can take a coaching approach to that conversation.

On the other hand, if the employee disclosed confidential information, that should be attended to with a firm line. The HR manager can respond by explaining that, “We don’t tolerate this kind of activity. You can really put a company at risk disclosing confidential information online.”

Ultimately, companies will need a social media policy to which employees have to agree. When someone violates it, the matter can be handled in accordance with the policy. Clearly, both policies and punishments will vary from company to company.

(Fostering a corporate culture of dignity and respect has positive results. Consider reading: How to protect your employer brand during a layoff)

Offering an alternative

Another way to head off potential damage is to set up an internal, online place to air grievances – a place to vent. These can be anonymous or not. But in all cases only HR should see what comes in. Such a system would have to be designed carefully to create an avenue in which people can voice concerns or opinions without fear of repercussions.

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