The release of information to the public – including through social media – can impact everything from a company’s image before the public to an individual’s image before a company. Jackson et al. (2020) note that while “strategic HR use of social media can build the employer’s reputation in the labor market and help HR professionals to reach candidates and current employees,” the use of social media can also “lead to the disclosure of trade secrets” or present a negative image of the company (p. 21). While companies place substantial hours and dollars into cultivating a favorable brand image before the public, a careless comment or complaint by an employee or contractor on social media can go viral and counteract such marketing efforts. In such cases, companies may find themselves forced to address such comments or complaints before the public in an attempt to save the brand image they have worked so hard to build.
In addition to impacting the image of a company, careless social media posts can also impact potential and current employees before the company. According to Melton and Miller (2015), while “most students appear to know that the content they post” on social media could be viewed negatively by “potential employers,” many students continue to do so (p. 678). Through social media, what would have been a careless comment if spoken aloud becomes a permanent statement viewable by countless individuals. Furthermore, comments and images referencing illegal activities or poor decision-making and communicating abilities become enshrined for potential and current employers to reference and base hiring and firing decisions upon.
It is worth noting that careless comments via social media can go beyond “negative,” and can sometimes involve trade secrets (as noted). While negative comments can cast a shadow over a company’s brand, comments revealing trade secrets can jeopardize long-term strategies, losing hard-won competitive edges. As referenced above, Melton and Miller (2015) assert that even though individuals know of such risks, many continue to post comments that can be understood to be “careless.”
In short, information released to the public – whether negative or revelatory of trade secrets – can force a company’s hand, forcing them to attempt to save their brand image or to respond rapidly to the sudden loss of a competitive edge.
Jackson, J. H., Mathis, R. L., Meglich, P. A., & Valentine, S. R. (2020). Human resource management (13th ed.). Cengage.
Miller, R., & Melton, J. (2015). College students and risk-taking behaviour on Twitter versus Facebook. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(7), 678–684. https://doi-org.ezproxy.umary.edu/10.1080/0144929X.2014.1003325
Social media is defined as “online communities where users create and share content and participate in networking” (Valentine, Meglich, Mathis, & Jackson, 2020). As Valentine, et al., (2020) states, HR can use social media as a great marketing tool, with reaching potential candidates. Social media can also be used for a business in general, getting the word out to the public about changes at a facility or responding to negative publicity. Social media can also be a source of risk for a business, forcing some companies to create social media policies (Valentine, et al, 2020). Healthcare fields face several risks in regards to social media, they include HIPAA violations, violation of the employee standards for communication, and damage to the organization’s public image (Veazie, 2019).
As a manager in a small rural hospital, I can give an example of all three risks listed above, however, I will just focus on HIPPA. One of my employees, recently took what she thought was an innocent, picture of herself and a friend, a flight nurse who had just arrived in our ED to pick up a patient. What the employee failed to do while taking the photo, was cover that babies face in the background. The result was after she posted the picture, someone in the organization reported her to risk management. Although the family did not care about the photo on Facebook, our hospital viewed this as a major HIPPA violation. All it would take is one person to read the newspaper on the right day, read a story about the baby in the ER, and put two and two together. Ultimately she had a day of suspension without pay and became an employee in bad standing for violating the hospital’s HIPPA policy.
While social media can be used in ways to damage an organization’s public image, it can also be used to engage the community. As a facility, we have chosen to use Facebook as a way, to reach the public about all things COVID-19, either what is happening at the hospital or what is occurring countywide. For example, when COVID started, we made a policy limiting visitors and requiring masks to enter the facility. With the use of social media, we were able to get the message out, not only did we use our account, but we also post on different community groups. At the same time, the public was able to ask questions and voice concerns that as an organization was able to respond to in real-time. Although some comments were negative, we were able to respond quickly and put the community at ease. Recently we chose to start posting positions on Facebook. I’m not sure what took us so long, but within a matter of days, we had multiple applicants. Overall releasing information to the public is always a risk, if a company stays alert, it can help positively guide decisions.
Valentine, S., Meglich, P., Mathis, R., & Jackson, J. (2020). Human Resource Management (16 ed.). Cengage.
Veazie, J. C. (2019). Work Place Conflict & Social Media. Health Care Collector, 3-6.