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Viral Infections: How to Overcome Bad Press on Social Media

Coping_with_Employees_on_social_mediaIt’s every employer’s nightmare: losing brand credibility – and potential business – virtually overnight, thanks to just one employee’s thoughtless social media post. Unfortunately- as evidenced by the latest social media snafu involving Taco Bell - it’s a very real risk in today’s social media-driven world.

Just yesterday, an unappetizing photo of a Taco Bell employee went viral, in what is only the latest in a line of high-profile stories involving employees doing very bad things. FedEx, Domino’s and KFC have all suffered bad PR due to employees behaving badly on social media – and yet, despite the negative press, all three companies managed to survive, thanks to the way they handled the issue.

While social media can be a great way to engage and connect with both current and potential employees, it also carries with it very real risks, as the above examples indicate. At the recent ERE Conference & Expo, Andrea Hough, VP of Talent Acquisition at ServiceMaster, addressed this concern in her session, Suddenly No Recruit Wants to Join Your Company: Battling the Very Real Risks of Social Media.

While stories like Taco Bell’s have many employers (ahem) running for the border when it comes to social media, Hough believes that the biggest mistake employers can make with social media is to ignore it. “If you’re not out there, paying attention to what people are saying, you can’t be proactive,” Hough said, who says that the best way to fight bad press on social media is to get in on the conversation yourself.

Indeed, Domino’s learned the hard way that response to negative social media attention has to be quick: Despite issuing a video apology on YouTube and setting up a Twitter account in order to address the issue, Domino’s president Patrick Doyle still received criticism from those who thought the company reacted to slowly to the incident. Indeed, a company spokesman later admitted the company underestimated “the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations.”

Perhaps learning from Domino’s mistakes, FedEx was widely commended for its response to a 2011 viral video showing one of its delivery people acting carelessly with a customer’s package.

Here’s how employers can learn from what FedEx did right:

  • Respond immediately. Do not try to ignore the situation and hope people will forget. They won’t. (And they might not forgive, either.) Soon after the video went viral, FedEx’s senior VP of U.S. Operations, Matthew Thornton, III, responded with a blog post and a video acknowledging the controversy.
  • Be sincere and transparent. In the video, Thornton discussed how the company was working to resolve the problem and ensure such an incident would not happen again.
  • Enlist the help of your brand ambassadors. One of the things that helped FedEx awake from its PR nightmare was its long history of customer and employee loyalty. After FedEx posted the apology video, many customers and employees joined the conversation, offering positive stories about their experience with the company.

And while you can’t prepare for everything, you can take steps to minimize the risks of employees using social media – before disaster strikes. First and foremost: “We need to hire people who are trustworthy,” Hough said in her presentation. Below are a few more of Hough’s tips:

  1. Get in the conversation. If you’re not part of the conversation, you can’t influence it. Instead of fearing social media, make it work for you – use it as a platform to answer questions, clear up misconceptions and address unhappy candidates.
  2. Educate everyone. Create a social media policy and make sure your employees aware of it and understand it.
  3. Be clear on your company culture. Provide realistic job previews for all high volume jobs. Ensure more clarity on compensation – mileage, overtime, payment dates, etc. Focus on career path and creating development plans. The more transparency you have, the more you will foster loyalty in your employees.
  4. Solicit feedback. Conduct “stay” interviews, and use the information from exit interviews to drive change. Leverage your employees and ask them to be brand ambassadors.
  5. Execute across all platforms. Utilize multiple social media networks to “share” company news, promote ‘jobs of the week,’ recognize employees, share recruitment videos and have a two-way conversation with candidates (see number 1, above).
Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.

 Social media has become so strong that you can't help to stop content to go viral if it's really funny or interesting. Some people need to fight against this because sometimes wrong things may get viral, you can't judge which things are going to go viral.


Social media has become so strong that you can't help to stop content to go viral if it's really funny or interesting. Some people need to fight against this because sometimes wrong things may get viral, you can't judge which things are going to go viral.


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