By Brian Fraley
I encountered two situations on social media recently that illustrate the new dangers construction and design firms face regardless of whether they participate as a company. Did you notice that I said regardless? This is a critical issue for all AEC firms that creates risk 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Most of your employees are on social media. The way that they represent themselves can directly impact your firm’s brand, especially if they identify themselves as an employee. That should keep you awake at night. The intent of this article is to make the case for keeping business and personal separated and monitoring your brand online, along with some easy-to-implement online brand monitoring action items at the end.
It Starts with One Questionable Post
It starts as a single post that offends someone. Your firm could end up at the epicenter of a public relations earthquake if the rocks break the right way along the fault line. If it gets enough attention, it may even catch the media’s attention.
Another danger is that the offended individual becomes a troll and seeks vengeance on your firm. They might share the post with negative comments to amplify the reach or perhaps post bad reviews online. Negative reviews are easy to post and often impossible to remove.
The following are the stories of two real-life situations, both of which happen to be within the construction industry. Identities are protected for obvious reasons, but they will demonstrate that an employee’s social media profile can present danger regardless of how the traffic is generated.
Story #1: Oops! I Forgot about that Post
The first situation involved an executive that posted a link on LinkedIn to his Twitter profile with an invitation to follow him there. His Twitter profile, while obviously personal, identifies his role as an executive with his firm and blends business and personal content.
I scrolled down the feed and noticed that he retweeted a post from a questionable profile with a foreign name. Let’s just say that the photo was a bit risque. Curious, I visited the page. The page was loaded with language foul enough to give Denis Leary pause, and links to pages that were most likely pornographic. The ironic part is that this was most likely an innocent mistake.
Story #2: The Danger Can Come from Inbound Traffic
The next situation occurred on Twitter. A trade magazine profiled a marketing manager at a large construction manufacturer. The magazine shared a link to the story and included a link to his Twitter profile. While the content of the profile contains strictly personal content, his profile includes his title and the name of his company. The profile, while generally innocent, does contain obscenities including an “F bomb.” This situation shows that risk is present even if your employees don’t look for the traffic.
Avoiding Social Media Won’t Solve the Problem
These two stories highlight just two potential dangers of having personal and business profiles connected. There are others. Although not highlighted here, AEC firms should also be monitoring for disgruntled employees intentionally trashing their brand on social media.
Maintaining a positive reputation was less complicated before the Internet for construction and design firms. If you blew a project, offended a client or the community, or one of your employees or competitors was trying to poison your firm with toxic word of mouth, it was all hearsay that you could dispute in person (or in court). Perhaps you had a member of the team getting intoxicated and embarrassing your firm at public gatherings. You disciplined that individual and moved on.
The Internet has complicated things by creating a platform where your firm’s reputation is in jeopardy 24/7. You don’t have the time to police the personal activities of your team on every social media platform. And yet, every day, they could be sending out offensive posts under your banner and undermining your brand.
The part that really concerns me is how quickly a post can be misinterpreted and spread like wildfire on the Internet. A seemingly harmless situation can escalate very quickly in today’s hypersensitive environment. There are “trolls” on social media that scrutinize the intent of any post. If your employees happen to touch on any of the current lightning rods including race, politics, or sexism, and their profiles mention your firm, the ill will of the trolls can spread to your firm and damage your brand.
Look at the case of the dentist that shot “Zimbabwe’s Most Famous Lion” also known as Cecil the Lion on July 15th, 2015. This man was assassinated on social media and in the press and his career and reputation was destroyed across the globe. I had a contractor colleague years ago that hunted exotic game. He had a wall full of pictures of his various kills all over the world. What if an employee had posted a photo of his office on Facebook?
A Simple Brand Monitoring Game Plan
There continues to be a lot of debate over the issue of how to keep employees in check on social media. As an employer, you have no right to dictate whether someone participates in social media or what they choose to share. That is true. But you do have a right to make sure your employees depict no personal connection to your firm.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your employees, including executives, couldn’t be posting anything offensive. It always shocks me what people are willing divulge on social media, especially Facebook. You can find people discussing marital problems, abuse, health issues, and more. The offensive material your employees could be posting is often what we would consider normal conversation on a jobsite, but when seen by the wrong person on social media, it could start a firestorm.
There are many websites that allow you to monitor your brand online, but the following basic moves will get the job done for AEC firms:
1. Create or revise any existing policy or employee handbook to address social media conduct as it relates to your firm’s name being used. Make sure to not only distribute, but also reinforce the importance by verbally communicating the news to all staff.
2. Set up Google Alerts for your firm name and possibly key employees at https://www.google.com/alerts. If you have variations, i.e. ABC Construction, ABC Construction, LLC, make sure you set an alert for each one.
3. Assign a staff member to schedule periodic checks on popular platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to watch for mentions of your firm. Simply enter your firm’s name in the search bar and monitor the results.
4. Make it a point to continually reinforce your policy on social media behavior at a company meetings throughout the year to drive the point home with existing and new employees.
The bottom line is that you should completely separate personal and company social media presences and continuously monitor your firm’s brand on the Internet. Ignoring social media will not make this problem go away. Your brand is too important to allow any one person to compromise. It’s like the old proverb says: “Never mix business with pleasure.”
Do you have a policy governing the activity of your employees on social media? How do you enforce it? What other methods do you use to monitor your firm’s brand online?