Face it! Reputations are made 24/7

Face it! Reputations are made 24/7

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC

Social networking sites have heightened conversations about the business life-personal life connection, but these new media haven’t changed what has always been true – each of us is responsible for the image we create and the reputation we have.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was an insurance company underwriter, a colleague was called on the carpet one Monday morning for having participated over the weekend in a Hooter’s wet T-shirt competition. Her manager had received a call from an agent who had been at the event and hadn’t expected to see his underwriter – at least not that much of her. Fortunately for my coworker, cell phone cameras hadn’t yet been invented. Today, a picture would have been snapped, uploaded to Facebook and been tagged for all to view. And let’s not forget the permanent image which would live on in cyberspace.

Fast-forward to May 2010. The headline in my local newspaper, The Charlotte Observer reads, “Facebook post costs waitress her job.” The story tells of a college-student waitress who was left a measly tip for the time customers sat at her table. After her shift, she went on Facebook and posted, “Thanks for eating at Brixx you cheap _______.” Her bosses called her in two days later and fired her for violating company policy against speaking disparagingly about customers and a second policy against casting the restaurant in a negative light in social networks.

In order to protect their own reputations and liability exposures, employers are working diligently to create and enforce social media guidelines for their firms. Social media platforms include, but are not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Wikipedia, MySpace, and blogging. An effective policy addresses both corporate and individual use of social media communication. Companies need to protect their public image while not squelching individual expression and rights. One published resource that agencies can access for samples of a good and useful employee handbook language is The Agents Council for Technology (ACT) Social Web Policy Guide. Visit www.iiaba.net and navigate to Member Services, then Agent Council for Technology.

Even with a clearly-stated social media policy in place, not all issues can be covered in an agency manual. It’s an individual’s responsibility to protect his or her job and character.

Be familiar with your company’s written and unwritten social media policies. Not knowing your company policy is no excuse if you violate it. If you don’t know if your employer has a written policy or the topic hasn’t been discussed, ask your boss about it. It’s in your company’s best interest to establish written guidelines. As a responsible employee, it’s in your best interest to know and follow them.

Establish your own personal guidelines. Who do you want to let into your online social media world? Combining personal and business friends (which most people do) bears added responsibility to what you post, join and comment on.
Sound business practices have taught us not to talk about sex, religion or politics. Think twice before posting comments or joining groups that could adversely affect business dealings.

Use good judgment. Is the content you’re posting consistent with the professionalism and standards you want to project? I just read a post from a business colleague who had a few minutes to kill because his “jerk of a client was late.” Even if I assume his delayed client doesn’t have access to this comment, I wondered why he would make a disparaging comment of any kind about those he does business with. What’s he saying or thinking about me?

Your responses to others’ posts and blogs reflect your beliefs and attitudes. Be respectful of others’ views. If you disagree, take it off the public site.

Work comes first. Remember when employees wasted time on personal phone calls, playing solitaire, or surfing the Internet? We may have evolved in the sophistication of how we kill time at work, but the resulting poor performance, lack of productivity, and disruption of others’ ability to do their jobs hasn’t changed. Engage in social media only during legitimate break times – and that’s only if your corporate social media policy permits you to engage at work at all. And remember, by using company property, your right to privacy is forfeited.

Privacy doesn’t exist. The Brixx waitress learned this by venting her frustration about her customer on her Facebook page. In addition, do not disclose proprietary or confidential information about your company, customers or colleagues; do not speak ill of the competition; do not violate copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights. Be careful if you choose to actively seek a job online if you still want to keep the one you have.

In our industry we sell trust, reliability, professionalism, and sound advice. In order to be regarded as possessing those qualities, it’s critical that we demonstrate them in all of our communication encounters.

About the author

Emily Huling, CIC, CMC helps the insurance industry create top-performing sales and customer service organizations. She is the author of Selling from the Inside, Great Service Sells, and Kick Your “But.” For information on her programs and products call 888-309-8802 or visit www.sellingstrategies.com.

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