There’s Oil in Them Hills – Employee Advocacy

A few weeks ago in “Who has the keys – and can you get them back,” I talked about the employees who directly benefit your brand and one of the issues with those social media accounts, ownership.  What about the other employees whose job duties don’t require them to engage socially?  Many of them are your greatest fans, as well as customers as well, but there is this fear about using them.

Everyone, well everyone who works in the employment space, is running around these days reading National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions and opinions, and putting push pins in maps of the United States as state after state enacts social media privacy legislation.

If you are going to enable your employees to be your advocates out in the social media space, you need to get over the fear-uncertainty-doubt (FUD) around it.  Just get over it.

Though I think the NLRB’s decisions have one consistent thread in them – it depends, there are some nuggets to take out of them.  Brands need to accept a loss of control.  Almost every case has centered around conduct that the brand found objectionable and potentially threatening.  Other than the employee having some air of authority about your brand, are those posts any more damning than a customer who has a gripe?  Don’t forget about the Streisand Effect as well if you start poking at a poster with few friends and no replies.

Every company, no matter how beloved, will have their detractors both internal and external.  Everyone accepts that.  My opinion is that most people see a little noise as just that, noise, and in the case of an employee expressing their opinion as a disgruntled employee.  The reader quickly dismisses it and moves on.

So why all the worry and hand wringing?  Be fair and open about what your expectations are for your employees and accept that sometimes someone will say something you don’t agree with.  Attempting to control it will only blow up in your face.  Now that doesn’t preclude you from controlling the things that matter, which if you aren’t controlling already, you are way behind the game – proprietary information and company spokespersons.  Your rank and file employees speaking in social media are expressing their opinion, not yours, so maybe asking them to say that is on point.  Proprietary information is already controlled by other policies.  Don’t try to control it with a social media policy.  I suggest really considering not having a social media policy, anyway.


If you are asking for social media credentials to look at the private postings of your employees or applicants, go all the way and ask them to turn in their journals and diaries.  There is no difference, folks.  If the latter makes you uneasy the former should as well.  And if it feels wrong, it is.  Q.E.D.

If you still insist on reading it, consider what you will see and what you don’t want to see.  Protected classes, pre-existing conditions and political views are just the beginning of the things you aren’t allowed to see, and once seen they are hard bells to unring.

And there is still the stuff that is publicly available, or posted.  That is fair game, and not in the scope of any of the legislation that is being ballyhooed around.

The deep-thinking out there want to ask the question about the intersection between this legislation and every company’s “you have no expectation of privacy” on our corporate owned network.  I have no idea where this will end, to be honest.  Be fair about it and monitor the things that are really important, such as the proliferation of your proprietary information.  Go further than that on the basis that your “no expectation of privacy” gives you wide berth and your brand may find itself the test case that decides it for everyone else.

There is one exception here – that of financial advisors and broker-dealers.  This is quite thorny, but I think a balancing can be made.  If those folks have large followings, their activity will be fairly public already.  You should have written policies already in place that govern their activity which could require that their business-related social posts be un-protected, or just prohibit them from using personal social accounts for business related communications.  The rub comes when you need to audit it.

I think the bottom line for all of the FUD out there with policies and privacy legislation is to be fair, open and honest about what your expectations are.  If you can do that, you will have great advocates, reasonable control and manageable problems.

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