Coronation Street actor Marc Anwar has apologised after posting “racially offensive” tweets and police are investigating whether or not his comments amount to a hate crime. ITV fired Anwar immediately but has the damage already been done; how can a company restore its reputation after an employee posts something offensive or controversial on their personal social media account?
Emma O’Leary is a consultant for ELAS specialising in employment law. She says that in this digital age it’s becoming ever more essential that companies have a robust social media policy in place: “Social media can be a great tool for the promotion of business and interacting with clients but it can be a negative weapon in the wrong hands. Employees who just don’t think or are disgruntled can be a danger to your business when they abuse social media. Whether they go on an offensive rant on Twitter or update their Facebook status to call their manager some choice names – if these posts can in any way be linked to your organisation, there is a reputational risk for you and your business.
“As we’ve seen with Marc Anwar, when these employees are as high profile as he is, appearing on one of the UK’s most loved soaps, the damage can often not be undone. Not only is Mr Anwar trying to salvage his own reputation, Coronation Street and ITV are now left doing damage control, firing him immediately and stressing that his comments are in no way representative of them.”
ELAS recommends that all companies should have a social media policy in place. Some might even want to consider specialist social media training, particularly if their employees are in the public eye e.g. actors or sporting organisations.
Emma continues: “A social media policy should highlight that staff who engage in social networking – even whilst they are off duty and off the premises – must always be mindful of expressing views that go against company values in any way. When these staff members are famous they will, of course, have a large following on social media, meaning anything they post will very quickly be spread across a wide audience. Should they post anything on their social media which is in any way offensive or controversial then the reputational damage to all associated can be extensive, particularly when it gets picked up by the national media and becomes front page news.
“No matter what industry you are in, staff should be encouraged to refrain from posting controversial opinions on social media. They should also resolve complaints with their managers or HR rather than venting through social media as any such comments could be defamatory and damaging to the business. They should be aware that failure to observe the policy could result in disciplinary action and even termination of employment.”