Crisis Management Strategy for Employee Social Media
Jessica Miller-Merrell | HR, Social Media| By
Social Media and Your Crisis Management Strategy
I’ve long said that social media changes everything especially in the context of work and the employment world. Human Resource professionals, as well as CEOs can no longer travel from location to location to speak individually with employees who are being laid off. Company announcements, lay offs, terminations, and downsizing news are now tweeted, texted, and Facebook shared at every and any moment. Corporate privacy and company secrets are no longer protected but shared and at a rapid pace. Human Resource professionals and business leaders must assume that every meeting, email conversation, or communication both verbal and electronic are being recorded, live tweeted, or streamed for public consumption. Companies and HR teams must be prepared with an employee crisis management strategy when it comes to social networks.
There are hundreds of case studies and examples, every single week, that fill our news feeds of stories of employees who mis-spoke and its forever recorded courtesy of the internet, but what about a good old- fashioned iphone mp3 recordings? Those too. No social media policy can protect you from this fact. Long after your company video or memo has been leaked on Twitter, the damage has already been done. A social media policy can’t protect you.
An Employee Crisis Management Story
A media shit storm (AKA employee social media crisis) has befallen a very small, 200-employee company by the name of Tate Publishing. They are a very religious, Christian organization which this week came under fire for the manner in which they handled how their employees were discussing rumors that their company was offshoring their business to the Philippines. Employee concerns were discussed on Facebook, company email, and other social media. It was discovered that one anonymous employee even went to the local press. The CEO, Ryan Tate, determined to smoke out the media mole, gave employees the opportunity to come clean until a meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 31st, 2012, or employees – even those not found to be involved – would be fired, at will. At the end of business on Thursday, twenty-five employees were let go because of the disclosure of rumors and conversations.
The 17-plus minute meeting, which is available to listen below, was recorded by an employee, who was present at the meeting, on their mobile phone. It was then shared with a reporter at a local business newspaper here in Oklahoma, who uploaded it to a social sharing site and then distributed via the social web.
The employee meeting begins with a prayer. Being a Christian publishing company, I guess I understand their purpose, but nonetheless religion is always a tough topic when it comes to work. He shares with his staff that he’s a lenient boss who even allows employees to view videos on work computers, as well as accessing Facebook at work. Life is good for an employee at Tate Publishing . . . until now.
Employees are ‘stupid’ according to the CEO who adds that ‘they’ employees are also morons. They don’t understand the word ‘outsourcing’ and blah, blah, blah. The employee who contacted the media was given the opportunity to come forward and admit their guilt. Except their silence will lead to the entire department being punished. “Twenty-five people will lose their jobs today,” said Tate.
HR Should Have a Voice in Employee Crisis Communication
The sad fact is that Tate Publishing actually employs an HR Director according to their corporate site. I’m not aware of the capacity of her involvement in this meeting or their decision, but if it had been me, I would resign immediately. Tate ends the meeting in ridiculous fashion, telling the terminated staff that he loves them and will pray for them while holding back tears. The twenty-five fired employees will be notified and paid by the end of the business day.
The meeting is ridiculous and insulting as the actions are by the CEO, except that is not the full story. The recorded meeting was shared with a member of the press, and the story hit the local news with the topic hitting every desktop and email inbox through the power of viral and social media. Adding insult to injury, a parody Twitter account has also been created, @taintpublishing. You can see one of their tweets above. This unfortunate case study and example demonstrates that companies must have a emergency social media and communication strategy in place, knowing that it really only takes one employee to share a recording, video, or insights into a private company meeting, with little means to track the company mole because of the availability of technology and social networks. Excep,t I can’t blame that employee. I’d record that meeting, too. The CEO is a ridiculous tyrant who is out of touch with the situation and his employees.
How Should Managers Manage Their Emotions?
But more importantly, managers sometimes do irrational things based on emotion and living in the moment. These things tend to get companies in trouble. I believe this was one of those moments, and that moment has come back to bite them. Locally, this now 175-person company is tainted, losing not only business, but credibility and respect from the community that it has served for many, many years.
Do you have a crisis management strategy in place when it comes to social media? How do you handle a hot-headed boss CEO who bases his decisions on emotion in your role as supportive company leader or even the HR Director? What would you do?
Rayanne Thorn says
Wow, thanks for sharing this, Jessica. It is brave and necessary.
Uncomfortable but necessary seems to be a theme for us this year…
I am shocked by the audacity of this CEO — did he really think no one would share his words? It causes me so much discomfort to hear this guy tout “Jesus” throughout his “speech”.
Who is belly-aching now? The fire and brimstone this guy has to face is just beginning for him now.
“Stupid” seems to be a common word for him to use. WWJD, TatePublishing? Not what took place here.
Peter Wyro says
Wow, what an unbelievable recording and what an incredibly inappropriate message from the CEO. I have an even better recommendation and this is the same message that I would tell my kids when they enter the landscape of digital communications – and at 4 and 2, that will be much sooner than I would like.
Don’t say or write anything that you don’t want anyone else to share. That includes forwarding your email, quoting you on Facebook or “recording” your angry rants and sending them to a reporter. The expertise to manage this effectively surely includes HR from a policy perspective and perhaps more effectively served by some senior strategic communications expertise.
This CEO needed some coaching about how to communicate potentially bad news, internally and externally — perhaps even a spokesperson. If you can’t seem to find a way to say what you need to say without saying “moron” – you probably need some help with your message.
Maybe a little credit as to where this story came from would be good, eh? The Journal Record published this originally last Friday: http://journalrecord.com/2012/05/31/trouble-at-tate-publishing-company-fires-25-as-outsourcing-rumors-fly-general-news/. Thanks.
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
Check the hyperlink on the words “shit storm” and you will find your article credited.
Former Tate Employee says
There’s a few facts that aren’t straight here, mainly because of the muddled press on the subject – such as the fact that he fired people for the anonymous email he mentions, which went to no one but staff members and Ryan Tate – not for violating confidentiality agreements. And no one leaked any info about the company on Facebook or Twitter, though you can see that since then many employees, past and present, have taken to social media to talk about what the public already knows. I will confirm, however, that an employee did speak to the Mustang Times, and they promptly called Ryan and let him know who called them, even though the employee asked to remain anonymous (way to compromise journalistic ethics, Mustang Times!).
All that said, I agree with your assessment of Ryan’s behavior, and I also agree with what you believe the HR director’s reaction should have been. However, she is Ryan’s aunt, so if she’s concerned, she won’t be likely to show it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
Hi Former Tate Employee,
The Facebook messages and the confidentiality agreement mentions are what Mr. Tate said during the recorded meeting and are not spun by the media. Not sure if you have listened to the recording or were in the room during the meeting. I appreciate your insights and leaving a comment here.
So if Mr. Tate knew who the employee was who leaked the story, why did he give the opportunity for the employee to come forward instead of terminating them immediately? All this just feels wrong to me. If he already knew who it was, he still held a meeting to let the person come forward and then penalized everyone by firing 25 employees. Sounds like a major asshat. As far as the HR person, it wasn’t confirmed but I heard she was a family member which makes her not really an advocate for the employee. Still, I hope she sees this article and maybe re-considers her actions.
Thanks again for your thoughts and taking the time to leave a comment. And oh, BTW, if you ever want to anonymously share a story with me or any of the former or current Tate employees, I will not spill the beans. I’m a locked vault and shame on the Mustang Times reporter.
Former Tate Employer says
Sorry I wasn’t clear. I was one of those fired by Ryan. I was in that meeting, and I wasn’t implying any media spin – I was saying that the media only got part of the story, because it’s a convoluted and lengthy story. Yes, Ryan mentioned posts on Facebook in the meeting, but there were none. If anyone asked him for proof, he has none! I know for a fact that no one who was fired made any negative posts. I’m not saying this to protect myself, because I’d planned to quit within a month anyway, but to make sure my friends aren’t misjudged by the public!
Thanks for your post on the subject. I’d gladly spill the beans to you anytime you like:)
Former Tate Employee says
Aaaand I misspelled my name and said employer instead of employee. Wishful thinking, maybe? Heehee
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
Thanks again for the insights. Appreciate you taking the time to set the record straight.
Wow, this is AWESOME! I am so glad “Former Tate Employee” commented here.
And I truly hope this employee will share more of the story…
Stuff like this goes on everywhere and the “good” things about social media can also be the “bad” things.
[…] and technology gone wrong like the leaked recorded video of Oklahoma Christian publishing company, Tate Publishing, these are relatively few and far between. Even still we should be prepared for the event that a […]
[…] to sites like Reddit, Tumblr and industry chat rooms and forums. You must develop a PR and HR social media crisis strategy before an employee publishes or posts something. Not sure you understand what I mean, click here to […]