Social media offers companies an incredible opportunity to expand their brands and connect with current and prospective customers. However, social media can also draw negative attention to your company. And often times employees are the culprit when it comes to negative social media coverage.
Take for instance a recent example involving Michigan-based mortgage lender Home Point Financial’s former employee. The former employee, Lisa Greenwood, authored a racist and derogatory tweet on July 25, 2016, about First Lady Michelle following her speech at the Democratic National Convention. Specifically, Greenwood tweeted, “@FLOTUS beautiful?? Seriously she is an ugly black b*tch.”
The First Lady’s speech was arguably the highlight of both political conventions. In contrast, Ms. Greenwood’s tweet represents the lowest of what people have to offer. But the negativity of rants like Ms. Greenwood’s also frequently extend to the employer. As reported by of the Royal Oak Patch, twitter users saw the tweet and immediately connected to the employer, which resulted in an onslaught of tweets directed to Home Point Financial’s Twitter profile calling out the tweet and whether it reflected the company’s values.
To the credit of Home Point, it responded by denouncing its employees racist tweet and terminating her. Its full statement is available here.
Home Point is not the first and won’t be the last company forced to respond to a PR debacle created by its employee. See for example our coverage of a Facebook posting that resulted in the termination of an employee. Our law firm routinely collaborates with companies when it comes to drafting employee social media policies, as well as educating managers and employees about social media legal issues and best practices. In sum, a social media misstep or outright deplorable posting exposes a company to bad publicity and lost revenue. But such mistakes may also give rise to legal liability. See for example, NLRB Finds Employer’s Workplace Rules Violated Federal Labor Law.
With this in mind, here are a few points to consider from the Home Point Financial situation and based on our social media legal experience:
- First, companies need to have an employee social media policy in place. That policy is the starting point for social media expectations at the company. However, it is a policy that needs to be carefully drafted with experienced employment counsel. This is because many policies that were not carefully drafted have been found to be overbroad in violation of various laws, including the federal National Labor Relations Act.
- Second, companies must be vigilant with respect to monitoring their social media brand. A corollary of this point is that businesses must also be ready to take action in response to a problem tweet, posting, or other social media rant. Going back to Home Point Financial, it issued an immediate statement denouncing the tweet and then took action towards the employee who authored the racist tweet. For insight about a sensible approach to monitoring employee social media use, see article, Monitoring Employees’ Private Social Media – Putting Together a Sensible Approach.
For more information about social media law and protecting your company’s social media brand, contact the social media attorneys at Shinn Legal, PLC. In this regard, we work with companies to proactively respond to such issues. We also work with employers to investigate employee misconduct issues, including those involving social media. Our goal is to help businesses grow through their social media efforts, while protecting against or limiting risks. Contact us for an initial consultation about what steps you can take to protect your business while maximizing your social media presence.