What do Adele, Goya Foods, and Kevin Hart have in common?
They’ve all been (or tried to be) “canceled” at some point recently.
Whether or not these celebrities and brands intended to offend people with their behavior is, in our current society, irrelevant. They did something that hurt someone’s feelings and through the ripple of social media influence became associated with cancel culture.
But in the world of mere working mortals such as ourselves, getting canceled is basically the same thing as getting fired - only without the cushion of fame and fortune. Barring truly offensive content, there are ways to survive a social media snafu though. Our experts say it helps if HR professionals understand how to coach an employee back to redemption.
Here’s how to do it.
Generally, most companies are concerned about the same big, dangerous things that are often identified in social media policies:
- Illegal activity
- Discriminatory behavior
- Sexually explicit content
- Inappropriate pictures, videos, memes, etc.
- Threatening or disparaging remarks (cyber-bullying)
- References to or solicitation of illegal drugs
- Any other unbecoming conduct in violation of policy (disparaging remarks against the company or sharing company/client info, which may also be illegal).
"People's emotions are heightened right now. And there is more violent content being posted, specifically people are being more threatening online. You may consider something you post to be pretty passive, but an organization may have to take it really seriously," says Bianca Lager, the President of Social Intelligence, a Santa Barbara-based Consumer Reporting Agency.
EBI partners with Social Intelligence to legally screen job applicants’ social media accounts to help protect workplace culture and prevent harassment.
In the months pre-COVID-19, Social Intelligence found about 1 in 15 people had some sort of red flagged online content. Its current numbers are about 1 in 9. Violent behavior results have also climbed. Pre-COVID-19 Social Intelligence reported about 1 in 60 people had posted something violent. Now it is finding 1 in 33.
Lager says aggressive verbiage and displays of use of force or violence are the highest climbers.
The Role of Cancel Culture
A recent survey by Social Intelligence reveals employers are most concerned with these types of social content:
- 65% Intolerance
- 45% Potentially Violent
- 35% Sexually Explicit
- 35% Potentially Illegal
If an employee posts something along these lines, employers can be pretty unforgiving. That’s due, in part, to some companies’ robust and clearly defined social media policies (which every business should have these days). But it could also be a reflection of society’s current obsession with cancel culture.
In its altruistic sense, cancel culture is supposed to create a foundation of accountability. It’s been mostly aimed at public figures (Adele being its latest victim) or brands who some people feel cross the line and post something inappropriate on social media.
Critics of cancel culture, however, say the backlash is often a rush to judgement in complicated stories before all the information has been gathered.
It’s this conflict in the ideology of cancel culture itself that puts fear into employees. How can employees still feel comfortable maintaining their personal social media profiles and having some sense of autonomy and freedom without violating their company’s policy and facing an immediate termination for something they might not realize is inappropriate?
The answer lies in the concept of coaching.
"It's not a death sentence because you post something inappropriate,” says Lager of Social Intelligence. “There is room for teachable moments."
Notice we didn’t say offensive, though. There is an important distinction between inappropriate and offensive. In most cases, these can be clearly defined through a social media policy, an employee conduct policy, and/or a workplace etiquette policy. Kudos to your organization if you have all three!
So, how do HR professionals weigh an employee’s social media post and decide how to react?
Here are some common questions they ask:
- How does this behavior impact the workplace?
- Can this content be displayed in the workplace?
- Would our customers largely support this statement or content?
- Does this support a safe work environment?
- How closely does this content align with our company values?
Hooker, who has 40 years of HR experience, says coaching an employee on proper social media behavior involves listening with intent, practicing empathy, and remaining objective.
In most cases, the employee isn’t a bad person, they made a bad choice.
She also strongly recommends that companies build a solid foundation of employee behavior and etiquette by investing in internal employee education programs.
“The goal of employee relations is to never get to the point where a social media snafu is an issue. When I teach employee relations and employee management, my goal is to never get there in the first place. Be proactive. Not reactive,” says Hooker.
Social Media Coaching
Here are three tools Hooker says HR professionals should have at their disposal to assist them with social media coaching:
- Employee Assistance Program – these benefit programs often include assessments, short-term counseling, and mental and emotional wellbeing offerings that can assist employees with learning proper social media behavior.
- Learning Management System – HR departments can include training courses in workplace etiquette, employee conduct, and other digital behaviors to empower employees to make good social media decisions.
- Information Technology and Security Procedures – while this is typically a technology-focused continuing education course, it also provides basic information about internet security, data integrity, and password protections.
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