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How leaders should and should NOT react when social media goes wrong

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) When you use social media as a CEO, your brand is always on the line. Even seemingly innocent statements can be taken in an unflattering light.

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When your power is tempted

Temptations come from seemingly odd places at times for each of us, but behind every one is an understandable human emotion. So while it may not be ours, we can see how it could seduce another. For example, the temptation that overcame Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman this past week.

Despite knowing his actions wouldn’t be well received, Huffman went beyond mere moderation and actually edited the personally unflattering comments to reflect other users.

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For a website like Reddit, where moderation in the forums has been accused of being uneven at times over the years, an attempt at comment moderation in the midst of a highly-charged political arena should expect to be met with criticism. Earlier in the week, Reddit closed the subreddit r/pizzagate, home of conspiracy theories regarding Hillary Clinton, including, but not limited to, the allegation that Mrs. Clinton ran a child-trafficking ring from a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor.

The damage is done

Upset users went to r/The_Donald and let their displeasure with Huffman be known, vulgarly displayed, at times. Huffman couldn’t handle their commentary, and changed the intended target from himself to the moderators of r/The_Donald. Although the changed posts were only up for an hour or so, and have since been restored to their original postings, the damage was done.

It’s not easy to be criticized when we feel that we’re rightly deserving of the blame, and harder still to be criticized when we know that we’re just doing our jobs and haven’t done anything wrong. However, for leaders, the use of social media to defend one’s self can be a dual-edged sword.

While using social media platforms is an extremely efficient way to combat misinformation, leaders (and by extension, public relations/communications deputies) must remember to use language that reinforces brand standards. Failure to do so only intensifies the problem.

When resolving a crisis, arguing with the people who feel let down by you or your product only cements their feeling that you’re both incompetent and tone-deaf.

How about another example?

Sometimes the mistake isn’t trying to avoid criticism, but in assuming that your personal social media persona can be divorced from the company you represent. This is a source of frustration for many employees and employers alike. There is predictable friction between wanting to live in the present for all the world to see, and doing so in such a way that your employer suffers no loss of value.

Such was the case for James Andrews, then a vice president at public relations firm Ketchum. Using his personal Twitter account in 2009, he wrote, “True confession but i’m[sic] in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say ‘I would die if I had to live here!'” The town was Memphis, where Andrews was presenting a session on the uses of digital media to FedEx, who famously base their operations there. The tweet quickly spread, making its way to the over 150-person-strong FedEx corporate marketing team, who were none too pleased, and were verbal in their displeasure to senior management. Andrews, predictably, apologized.

How not to apologize

His apology, however, is a good example of the type of apology to avoid when you do make a mistake or have a lapse in best practices with your personal and/or corporate use of social media. “Two days ago I made a comment on Twitter that was the emotional response to a run in I had with an intolerant individual. The Tweet was aimed at the offense not the city of Memphis,” he wrote. “Everyone knows that at 140 characters Twitter does not allow for context and therefore my comments were misunderstood. If I offended the residents of Memphis, TN I’m sorry. That was not my intention.”

Let’s count the red flags, shall we?

His opening? Not bad. You do have the ability to provide some detail as to why you made the choices you made on social media and wrote what you wrote, and should take that opportunity as you see fit.

“Everyone knows”… things are getting shaky. If everyone knew it, they wouldn’t have taken as immediate of a level of offense that they did, would they? If you’re worried about the contextual capabilities of the platform, either provide appropriate background in the space you have, or pick a better platform.

“… my comments were misunderstood.” We’re sliding away from a true apology here, to corporate-speak. As the author, you own responsibility for writing with such clarity that it is almost impossible to misunderstand what you’re trying to say.

“If I offended… I’m sorry.” And here the shift away from taking personal responsibility is complete!

When it’s clear that people are indeed offended by something you’ve posted to social media, there’s no reason to say, “if”.

All “if” does for you in this context is make you sound like a petulant child who got caught doing something that they knew better than to do. Own your behavior, and say instead, “I offended you, and that was wrong of me.” People are much more likely to forgive you when you take responsibility for your own actions like an adult.

“That was not my intention.” Words have real power, and your intention is framed by what you wrote. Perhaps it wasn’t the intention to have blowback from experiencing personal frustration, but you’ve got to be aware of it in this era all the same.

When social media goes wrong

Depending on the frequency and the severity, an off-brand use of social media may move from a poor idea to an unethical one. That’s the situation an overzealous defender of the Whole Foods brand found himself in in 2005. Speculation is the trade of internet message boards, especially those focusing on stocks. Poster “Rahodeb” was both animated and opinionated when speculating about upcoming purchases Whole Foods would engage in, especially regarding a company named Wild Oats.

Unfortunately that level of insight wasn’t due to a penchant for prediction.

“Rahodeb” was a anagram for Deborah, the wife of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.

Mackey’s message board posts weren’t limited to the acquisition of Whole Foods, however. For over eight years, Mackey took to the message boards to debate customers over their experiences with Whole Foods, going so far as to defend his own haircut when another message board user made fun of it.

The whole affair came to light when the Federal Trade Commission, who opposed the merger, posted “Rahodeb’s” confession that it was Mackey the entire time. Mackey’s comments came perilously close to skirting illegal insider trading, and were unseemly even in the best light.

The takeaway

When you use social media as a CEO, your brand is always on the line. Even seemingly innocent statements can be taken in an unflattering light, so the old advice of thinking before one speaks is always good to consider for starters.

When you’re always on the stage, your responses don’t have to be rehearsed, but be aware that they will possibly be transmitted far beyond your reach. The audience is always listening.

#CEOAwareness

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

This story was first published in November 2020.

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Business News

How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Age discrimination lawsuits are coming due to the pandemic – don’t add to the mess

(BUSINESS NEWS) Age discrimination is spreading despite intentions to help, and employers need to know how to proceed in this unprecedented era.

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Ageism void

Before the pandemic, age discrimination was prevalent in workplaces. The EEOC reports that in 2018, about 6 out of 10 workers aged 45 years and older say they experience discrimination on the job.

A 2015 survey found that 75% of older workers found age an obstacle in job hunting. COVID-19 made the situation much worse.

Not only do older workers deal with discrimination, but they are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, older workers were hit the hardest by job loss during the pandemic, which is unusual during a recession. As offices reopen, employers need to be careful to avoid age discrimination in rehiring.

Lawyers expect age discrimination lawsuits to increase.

Last September, Harris Meyer published an article in the ABA Journal that predicted a “flood of age discrimination lawsuits” from the pandemic. Employers who have good intentions by keeping older employees out of the workplace to protect their health are still guilty of age discrimination.

What can employers do to avoid age discrimination?

It may be fine line between making sure you don’t discriminate based on age while offering ADA accommodations. The first thing employers should do is to know what laws apply based on their location. Some states exempt employees over 65 from returning to the workplace out of safety fears, meaning that those employees can still get unemployment. Other states are cutting benefits if employees don’t return to work, regardless of age.

There are some jurisdictions that have passed legislation about which workers have the right to be recalled. Next, review your own policies and agreements with laid off and terminated employees. You may want to consult legal counsel to make sure you’re covering your bases.

As you rehire, whether you’re bringing back former employees or hiring new team members, do not make hiring decisions based on age. Keep good documentation about your decisions to terminate certain employees. If you are citing poor performance, make sure to have a record of that. Don’t terminate older employees who have bigger salaries just because of lower sales. Monitor your words (and that of your hiring team) to avoid bias in hiring and firing.

Provide accommodations or not?

According to the SHRM, “Workers age 40 and older are protected from bias by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; however, that law doesn’t require employers to make accommodations for safety concerns.”

Still, employers can provide flexibility for workers, but it largely depends on the type of job. Reaching an accommodation for an office worker will be much easier than accommodating a sanitation worker.

Employers should assume that workers aged 40 and older can return to work. When the need for help is raised by the employee, enter negotiations for accommodations. Don’t initiate the conversation, and absolutely avoid any references to age.

Know that the environment may change as the pandemic continues to affect workers.

Be thoughtful about your hiring practices moving forward to avoid costly litigation from age discrimination.

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