Apr 10, 2012

Negative social attention on your HR brand

Social media gives disgruntled workers, and the public, a forum to air grievances – how the organization responds is critical

By Harpaul Sambhi

A disgruntled former employee wouldn’t normally be considered newsworthy. It’s not something traditional news outlets pay much attention to.

But social media gives that former employee a forum to voice his opinion, potentially attracting similarly disgruntled employees.

Together, they can form a community with the sole purpose of bringing down the organization, whether by warning prospective employees against joining the organization on employer-review forums like Glassdoor or forming Facebook groups protesting against the organization.

As other users begin to take notice, the complaints and warnings will compete with the polished corporate message. The organization’s job of controlling its brand becomes increasingly harder as the online community grows and becomes more vocal. While it can take legal action to have the website shut the group down or remove libelous content, including videos, such action will most likely backfire against the organization by drawing even more attention to the group and its message. 

Nestlé discovered this in 2010 when Greenpeace’s YouTube video, linking the candy giant to palm oil related deforestation and orangutan deaths in rainforests went viral. Nestlé’s legal action to have the video banned from YouTube and replaced with the statement “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Société des Produits S.A.” only drew more attention to the environmental group’s campaign.

The video spread to Twitter, Facebook and Reddit among other social media sites. The story was also picked up by the traditional news media. Eventually Nestlé bowed to public pressure and cut ties with Sinar Mas and other palm oil producers linked to deforestation in Indonesia.

This is a perfect example of why employers should not try to overreact to social media posts from the public, or from employees. This is the least productive measure you can take, as emotions can cloud judgment and prevent you from being able to solve the problem.

Instead, interact with users to find out what their pain points and frustrations are. It’s possible many other people have the same issues with your organization, so finding out more will help you address and rectify them if needed. Addressing the concerns raised by anyone, whether it’s employees, candidates, alumni or the public, rather than disciplining them for voicing frustration, can turn people who are irate (especially employees) into engaged champions of the organization.

Xerox, for example, has given HR staff the ability to comment on potentially negative or concerning issues an employee or a public user may have.

“Transparency for organizations is the key. You want to engage and not hide. We understand people have their own opinions and we want to understand their view point,” says Chris Spence, senior HR specialist and team lead at Xerox Canada.

HR staff search online to find negative blog posts, tweets or Facebook updates about Xerox and then reach out to users to find out more about their concerns and try to address them.

Imagine posting the following comment to an angry employee complaining about his salary to friends and family on Facebook: “Hello, I’m Erin from HR. It appears you are unhappy with the current compensation packages at our organization. I am more than happy to discuss this with you. Why don’t you come by my office sometime this week?”

Not only will you be addressing the employee’s concerns directly, you will also show his contacts your organization cares about employees.

Also, don’t take information on social media at face value. It’s possible a negative post about your organization, or an inflammatory blog, wasn’t actually written by an employee. It’s important to do your due diligence and confirm the veracity of the online information before taking any disciplinary actions.

This is one of many ways to deal with your HR brand online. Has this ever happened to you or a colleague’s organization? What were some ways we should deal with social media when it comes to our brand?  I welcome your feedback.

Harpaul Sambhi is the CEO of Careerify, a company that develops social recruiting tools focused on employee referral programs with offices in Toronto and San Francisco. He is the author of Social HR, published by Carswell, which sheds insights in how social media is impacting human resources. He can be reached at, (416) 840-6216 or visit for more information.