"How are we supposed to manage what our employees say about us when they're on Twitter and Facebook all the time?"
Executives worry about social media in relation to two things: risk to the company and loss of productivity. Both are legitimate concerns. Yet many of those same executives are downright tepid about bringing up the productivity issue. It's as if they're worried about sounding ridiculous, like the old dolt who doesn't get this World Wide Web hullabaloo.
Or perhaps they've seen studies like the one claiming that employees who use the Internet for personal reasons are nine percent more productive. Researchers in Australia report that "workplace Internet leisure browsing, or WILB, helped to sharpened workers' concentration."
There you go. Can't argue with an acronym.
But even CEOs who buy it are concerned about how social-networking employees might be representing the company. And they dang well should be.
Deloitte's 2009 Ethics & Workplace Survey found that 75 percent of working Americans think it's easy to damage a brand's reputation via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media services. Yet a third of all employees say they never even consider what their boss might think before posting something online.
This is scary stuff. It means that a good chunk of any company's workforce could include people with the same kind of mental disposition as the two Domino's employees, aged 31 and 32, who posted a video of themselves spitting on food and stuffing cheese up their nose -- all while laughing that "somebody will be eating them, yes eating them... Now that's how we roll at Domino's!"
In the first 48 hours, more than a million people watched the gross-out video just on YouTube. Internet exposure and news coverage hit like a hurricane. And in only four days of tracking, consumer perceptions toward one of the nation's most popular brands went from great to rotten.
Domino's responded comprehensively and is even being credited with being the "Tylenol crisis" of the new media era. But winning a PR trophy doesn't come close to accounting for what that little video prank cost the company in lost sales, bad publicity and ridicule, penalties paid for health-code violations, costs associated with managing the crisis and the expenses of investigations and litigation.
And unlike the Tylenol crisis, the image of a smirking Domino's employee sticking cheese up his nose will keep showing up on the Internet forever.
In a New York Times story, a Domino's spokesman underscored the real bottom-line risk of social media:
"We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea. Even people who've been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino's, and that's not fair."
Companies must have comprehensive social media policies in place, and many do. But rules alone won't change how many people behave online. In a world where so many employees (and bosses) could give your brand a black eye, it will take considerable internal culture-building and communications programs to ensure they don't.
Technology savvy or not, that gives every CEO good reason to wonder how much time their people are spending on social media. And what exactly they're doing there.
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Links & Resources
- Deloitte | 2009 Ethics & Workplace Survey Results
- New York Times | Video prank at Domino's taints brand
- USA Today | Domino's nightmare holds lessons for marketers
- Domino's | CEO YouTube response: "Disgusting Dominos people"
- Scatterbox | Transparent generation realizes downside to growing up online