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Employee vs Employer branding on social media: Who owns the brand? – Part 1

Frew Murdoch

Gone are the days when companies could rigidly control their company brand image by publishing vague press releases and issuing guarded PR statements. Employees now hold the power over your company brand image and with just one astute Tweet, they can become either your greatest brand ambassador or worst PR disaster. As social media usage has soared so too have the numbers of people touting shiny personal brands and tags, such as 'thought leader', brand ambassador and trend setter. So how do you strike the balance between the desire among employees to express their personal brands on social media and the need to control company brand image and communication?

Social media training should be available to all employees

Companies need to adapt to the new-school way of promoting their brand images. A great way of doing this is by incorporating social media training into the induction process. According to Whose Tweet is it anyway?, new employees should receive compulsory training on how to:

  • Conduct themselves on social media platforms, and
  • Draw the line between personal and professional use, specifying when certain conversations in the social media sphere could be harmful to the company brand image.

This not only protects the company brand image from social media faux pas but also saves the company from legal hot water.

Don't have a social media policy? Draw one up – fast!

Time and time again, we read about how we need to have a comprehensive corporate social media policy. But why is it so important?

Take a look at the case of Fredericks v Jo Borkett Fashions [2011] JOL 27923:

  • Fredericks was dismissed because of derogatory updates he posted on Facebook.
  • He challenged the fairness of his dismissal, maintaining that he has the right to privacy - which is entrenched in the constitution.
  • The updates could be seen by anyone, even those who weren't direct connections (Facebook friends) on the website.
  • The CCMA found that an employer is entitled to intercept such content on social media in terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act 70 of 2002. Jo Borkett, Frederick's employer, was therefore allowed to view Facebook updates open to the public, and Fredericks' dismissal was found to be fair by the CCMA.

How could a social media policy have prevented this?

A transparent and detailed social media policy clearly defines the dos and don'ts of personal status updates and would've dissuaded Fredericks from posting derogatory remarks on his personal Facebook account.

Brush up on your knowledge of the digital generation

According to Whose Tweet is it anyway?, for organisations to both manage the risks and magnify the opportunities presented by the digital age, there must be an in-depth understanding of the digital age employee and his or her role in the company and culture.

So who is the digital age employee?

Digital natives:

  • Expect instant gratification – content on demand,
  • Have 24/7 access to social media networks,
  • Believe wholeheartedly in and promote a social sharing lifestyle, and
  • Expect their workplaces to reflect the same social sharing values and connectivity as themselves.

According to Whose Tweet is it anyway?, if employers want to recruit and retain digital age employees and capitalise on their employees' profiles, they need to embrace a new and less controlled way of doing business – one that is more collaborative and community driven.

The question is that when an employee has used work time and business resources to build their own personal brands, does the organisation have any claim to that employee's individual brand? To find out the answer, look out for Employee vs Employer branding on social media: Who owns that brand? – Part 2 next week.

Frew Murdoch is the assistant editor of HR Pulse. She has a BA degree in communications and English and a passion for HR technology.

Christine Botha, co-author of 'Ethics in HR Management: A guide for HR professionals and line managers', had this to say:

"I stumbled across your review of our Ethics Guide published 28 June 2012 and wish to thank you for the positive and complimentary comments made – this was a lovely surprise and most rewarding. I will certainly pass this on to all co-authors of the Guide."