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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!

Business News

What COVID-19 measures do workplaces have to take to reopen?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employers can’t usually do medical screenings – but it’s a little different during a pandemic.

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COVID-19 temp gun

Employers bringing personnel back to work are faced with the challenge of protecting their workforce from COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have issued guidelines on how to do so safely and legally.

Employee health and examinations are usually a matter of personal privacy by design through the American’s with Disabilities Act. However, after the World Health Organization declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic in March, the U.S. EEOC revised its guidance to allow employers to screen for possible infections in order to protect employees.

Employers are now allowed to conduct temperature screenings and check for symptoms of the coronavirus. They can also exclude from the workplace those they suspect of having symptoms. The recommendations from the CDC also include mandatory masks, distant desks, and closing common areas. As the pandemic and US response evolves, it is important for employers to continue to monitor any changes in guidance from these agencies.

Employers are encouraged to have consistent thresholds for symptoms and temperature requirements and communicate those with transparency. Though guidance suggests that COVID-19 screenings at work are allowed by law, employers should be mindful of the way they are conducted and the impact it may have on employer-employee relations.

Stanford Health Care is taking a bold approach by performing COVID-19 testing on each of its 14,000 employees that have any patient contact. They implemented temperature scanning stations at each entrance, operated by nurses and clinicians. The President and CEO of Sanford Health Care said, “For our patients to trust the clinical procedures and trials, it was important for them to know that we were safe.”

Technology is adapting to meet the needs of employers and identify symptoms of COVID-19. Contactless thermometers that can check the temperature of up to 1,500 people per hour using thermal imaging technology are now on the market; they show an error margin of less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. COVID-19 screening is being integrated into some company time-clocks used by employees at the start and end of each shift. The clocks are being equipped with a way to record employee temperatures and answers to a health questionnaire. Apple and Google even collaborated to bring contact tracing to smart phones which could help contain potential outbreaks.

Fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing are the three most common symptoms of COVID-19. Transmission is still possible from a person who is asymptomatic, but taking the precautions to identify these symptoms can help minimize workplace spread. This guidance may change in the future as the pandemic evolves, but for now, temperature checks are a part of back to work for many.

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Business News

Technology that may help you put the “human” back in Human Resources

(BUSINESS NEWS) Complicated application processes and disorganized on-boarding practices often dissuade the best candidates and cause new hires to leave. Sora promises to help with this.

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Even in a booming economy, finding the right applicant for a role can be a drawn-out, frustrating experience for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Candidates submitting their resume to an automated HR system, designed to “seamlessly” integrate candidates into their HRIS accounts, face the interminable waiting game for feedback on whether they’re going to be contacted at all.

Ironically, this lack of feedback on where a candidate stands (or even if the resume was received at all) and a propensity for organizations to list roles as “Open Until Filled”, overwhelms the hiring manager under a mountain of resumes, most of which will not be reviewed unless there is a keyword match for the role. And if they do somehow manage to see the resume, studies indicate that in less than 10 seconds, they’ll have moved on to the next one.

The problems don’t end there, however. Once the candidate and hiring manager have found one another, and the HR team has completed the hire, the dreaded phase of onboarding begins. During the first few days of a new job, a lack of effective onboarding procedures—ranging from simple tasks like arranging for technology or introductions to a workplace mentor—can be the cause of a significant amount of employee turnover. Forbes notes that 17% of all newly hired employees leave their job during the first 90 days, and 20% of all staff turnover happens within the first 45 days.

The reason, according to Laura Del Beccaro, Founder of startup Sora, is that overworked HR teams simply don’t have the bandwidth to follow up with all of those who are supposed to interact with the new employee to ensure a seamless transition experience. Focusing on building a template-based system that can be integrated within the frameworks of multiple HRIS systems, Sora’s focus is to set up adaptable workflow processes that don’t require the end-user to code, and can be adjusted to meet the needs of one or many employee roles.

In a workplace that is becoming increasingly virtual, out of practicality or necessity, having the ability to put the “human” back in Human Resources is a focus that can’t be ignored. From the perspective of establishing and expanding your team, it’s important to ensure that potential employees have an application experience that respects their time and talent and feedback is provided along the way, even when they might not be a fit for the role.

Take for example the organization who asked for an upload of a resume, then required the candidate to re-type everything into their HRIS, asked for three survey responses, an open-ended writing task, a virtual face-to-face interview, *and* three letters of reference—all for an entry-level role. If you were actually selected for an in-person interview, the candidate was then presented with another task that could take up to two hours of prep time to do—again, all for an entry level role.

Is that wrong? Is it right? The importance of selecting the right staff for your team can’t be overstated. But there should be a line between taking necessary precautions to ensure the best fit for your role and understanding that many of the best candidates you might find simply don’t want to participate in such a grueling process and just decide to move on. There’s a caveat that says that companies will never treat an employee better than in the interview process and in the first few weeks on the job—and that’s where Sora’s work comes in, to make certain that an employee is fully supported from day one.

Bringing on the best to leave them without necessary support and equipment, wondering at the dysfunction that they find, and shuffled from department to department once they get there creates the reality and the perception that they just don’t matter—which causes that churn and disconnect. Having your employees know that they matter and that they’ll be respected from day one is a basic right—or it should be.

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Business News

Trader Joe’s doesn’t want to change its controversial brand names

(BUSINESS NEWS) Branding has gone through a major change recently and many companies are agreeing to shifts, but Trader Joe’s thinks its names are fine.

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In the last few months our country has gone through a complete re-evaluation of their societal impact with their branding names. Companies that have been strong for neigh on a century are changing their names to accommodate more socio-intelligent content. Whether its from real change or from following the societal trends, the gambit of following the socio-economic climate is becoming a common theme. However the world turns next, the changes we are seeing now is creating a new world of products and status quo.

One company, though, is standing strong with their branding. Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain, is sticking to its guns, despite some rather vocal push back. A petition aimed at the stores “racist” branding name habit has started making its way through the internet. Currently the petition has crossed the 5000-signature threshold and is getting close to its 7500 goal on change.org.

The habit of using phrases like “Trader Jose” or “Trader Ming’s” in their international food products is the main point of contention. The people behind the petition state that using names like this makes those items appear to be exotic or out of the norm like the original/traditional brand Joe – which at its very basic definition is truthful. The branding technique brands something as different than the original.

Initially a company spokesperson stated that the names were in the process of being changed, but less than a week later their tone changed. Trader Joe’s now states that while they “want to be clear; we disagree that any of these labels are racist.” They will not be changing things based on petitions. Also they report that “decades ago, our Buying Team started using product names, like Trader Giotto’s, Trader Jose’s, Trader Ming’s, etc.

We thought then – and still do – that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures”. According to their current reporting they have also reached out to their customer base and supposedly many customers reaffirmed “that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended – as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing”.

Personally, I see two major issues here. First, they are literally talking about a branding that is decades old; habits that were comedic then are now seen in a very different light. Just like an organism, society grows and changes too. If they can’t come up with new gimmicks to make themselves more popular and fresher, then they’ll most likely fall by the wayside as it is. The other issue is that their polling was specifically geared towards their current buyers; they asked their own customers whether they found this offensive. Can we all just take a collective deep breath and say biased please? Whether or not they decide to stick to their guns here is going to lay some groundwork in the future.

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