Sunday, May 26, 2024

Social Media Russian Roulette

Grant Ainsley Special for the ACA Newsletter

Grant Ainsley provides media relations training to ACA.

For years I’ve been talking about the need for every organization, large or small, to have a social media policy. The good news is a higher percentage of organizations now seem to have either a social media policy or at least guidelines for the company and their employees to follow. The bad news is, the majority of companies still have nothing to protect themselves from things their employees do and say in social media. So the situation is getting better, but not quickly enough in my opinion.

Although there’s no way of measuring it, I also sense the link between what a person does in their private social media life and the organization they work for is becoming more connected. There’s very little doubt that what somebody does in social media can and does have an impact on the organization that employs them.

Two excellent examples come to mind immediately. There was the case of Deborah Drever, the MLA who was elected in the May 5 Alberta election as an NDP candidate from Calgary. 17 days after getting elected, she was kicked out of the governing NDP caucus because of offensive social media posts she had made. Then there was the story of the young man from Toronto who was confronted by a female TV reporter after he used profane language as she was trying to do her job. He was identified through social media and because of the negative impact surrounding the story; Ontario Hydro fired him. I’ll leave it to the courts to decide if companies are able to fire employees based on their behavior outside of work, but there’s no doubt the connection between something a person does away from work and their employer is very much there. That’s why I still chuckle when somebody’s social media profile says their comments are theirs and theirs alone and have nothing to do with their employer. Save your breath.

For construction companies this can be especially concerning. Keep in mind that virtually everybody employed these days is on social media, but yet a large majority of the companies they work for don’t give them any rules to follow.

There was the case of a construction company worker who took pictures of a crane collapse in Halifax and then posted the photos on Facebook. Within a matter of minutes his posts had reached the media in Halifax and a reporter was on the phone to his General Manager looking for a comment about the crane collapse. The GM had just been told of this development and certainly wasn’t prepared to speak to the media about it.

The question then becomes, would a policy have made any difference? One can only hope that the employee would have taken the photos and then decided to hand them over to his safety manager as part of the investigation into the accident, rather than posting them on Facebook. Due to the fact he didn’t, a human resources-type discussion would have taken place with the employee and it would have gone something like this – “We have a social media policy, you signed to say you understood it and now you have contravened it”. At that point you would then make a decision about consequences for the employee’s actions, the same as any other HR issue.

Virtually every construction project done these days has some impact on the public and it’s watching what’s taking place. Whether it’s a school, a commercial building, a medical center or some other project, people are watching and following on social media. They’re also making comments on social media about the work of your company and your employees. Workers saying embarrassing things about the company on social media simply can’t be tolerated today because there are too many people watching and too much is on the line.

If construction companies are truly concerned about their corporate brand and reputation they should have a social media policy to try to ensure embarrassing things don’t happen to them and if they do there are consequences.

I’m not a lawyer, but do know that if you have not instructed an employee to do something or have given the proper direction, it’s very difficult to find clear and total fault with the employee for doing something wrong. What employees are saying about your company on social media is important and how they are acting in social media on their own time has also become something to pay attention to.

Do you know what your employees are saying on social media? If the answer is no I suggest you implement a social media policy to make sure you’re not facing the news media for all the wrong reasons.

Grant Ainsley is a media trainer and speaker from Edmonton. He’s also the author of the book The Honest Spin Doctor. More information can be found at and he can be reached at