Everything is permanent when posted on social media. Let me repeat that. Everything. Is. Permanent. We’ve all succumb to the temptation to drive likes, comments or retweets, writing off-the-cuff remarks for a following or to express oneself in a given moment. The problem is that those fleeting posts – some of which may have been written ten years ago when you were a snarky teen or college student – can come back to haunt you in your professional life.
Recently, a variety of public figures – including high-profile entertainment executives (e.g., James Gunn, director of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise) and athletes (e.g., Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner) alike – have become the target of internet trolls scouring through their accounts to dig up posts from years ago that contain insensitive and/or offensive language. While those with followings in the hundreds of thousands or millions make headlines when their old posts resurface, it is something that all professionals and their brand keepers need to be aware of – even if those posts do not become a discussion topic on CNN.
While social media encapsulates our lives on a daily basis in 2018, we can forget that it has only been around in its current form for 15 years or so. The vast majority of us use it much differently today than we did in 2008, and while this isn’t an excuse for offensive posts, those posts are not always reflective of the person in the present. I can sit here and maintain that no one should ever post anything that could be deemed even mildly inappropriate; however, we are all humans that make mistakes. Every employed individual needs to understand that while speech is free, it is not free of potential consequences. Inappropriate behavior, even in the past, can hinder business development.
For professional services companies, it is imperative to conduct a “social media audit” of employees to know what negative content may be lurking out there. Not all offensive content is created equal; however, most will not be as blatant as Gunn’s or Turner’s. Posts about politics, song lyrics, sports trash talk, among others commentary, may not be representative of the image a company wants to project.
To really drive this message home, firms should host training sessions with the marketing department, HR department and general counsel. If they can get in front of the problem by emphasizing the importance of “scrubbing down” a social media account, while stressing individual First Amendment rights, they can put themselves in a better position to avoid a crisis in the future. In these sessions, they can counsel employees on proper social media use and the company standards for posting.
Are certain topics off limits? What type of language is tolerated? Would they be comfortable with a client seeing this particular post? These are important questions for professional services companies to consider as social media isn’t going away anytime soon and the internet has a long tail – that can come back and smack you.
— Joey Telucci