CEOs Should Avoid Overexposure on Social Media

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By Genevieve Douglas

Executives who use social media should be extra careful about what they post, and HR has to take heed as well, practitioners tell Bloomberg BNA.

Scrutiny of chief executive officers’ social media accounts, and what they’re posting or following, has risen in the past year, Ken Springer, a former FBI agent and president of background check and investigative firm Corporate Resolutions, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 17. When it comes to the CEO, organizations are extremely interested to know what their leaders are doing online, Springer said, and whether they’re consistent across social media sites. Inconsistencies often mean the CEO’s online activity should be examined further, Springer said.

Social media, and the ensuing ability of things to “go viral” has changed how leaders of companies have to reconcile having a professional and personal presence online, Springer said. Executives and their employees have a right to have a personal life, and a lot of these social media are mostly for personal use. “It’s really a gray area,” Springer said.

One example of this increased scrutiny is when the CEO of Taylor Gourmet was the target of social media backlash from customers in the Washington, D.C., area when he participated in a photo-op with President Donald Trump. Social media is going to fuel any spark, and in the case of Taylor Gourmet, the CEO was just in a photo, “but that’s the nature of the beast,” Joelle Scott, senior vice president at Corporate Resolutions, told Bloomberg BNA.

Scott recommended companies have strict social media policies and clearly defined guidance in place on what employees can post. In some cases, Scott said, companies have banned CEOs from having a presence on social media completely. “While it may not be preventative,” having a well-defined social media policy places everyone on the same page “so it’s clear when a policy has been violated,” Scott said. Other solutions for CEOs who want personal social media accounts include guidance that spells out “it’s OK to tweet about our children but not about co-workers,” she added.

Best Practices for HR

HR should be proactive about creating policies that can minimize the risk of employees and executives alike using social media platforms, Susan Bassford Wilson, E-Law practice group chair for Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP in St. Louis, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 21. Wilson recommended businesses create an information governance group to ensure “technology will maximize the value of information while minimizing the risks and costs.” The group should include business leaders, legal counsel, HR and IT, she said.

Training is also a big component to proactively managing social media presence, Wilson said. Oftentimes, CEOs and employees alike are unaware of how they will screw up on those platforms, and anything a CEO says on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, for example, can be used in a lawsuit by employees who allege they have been targeted or marginalized at the company or by the company culture, Wilson said.

HR should also make sure social media use policies align with other company policies on harassment and discrimination. “Don’t exercise unnecessary control over the employees, especially when not at the workplace, but be aware incidents can still occur off hours,” she said.

Overall, proper social media use should be “a team effort,” Wilson advised, because it can be complicated when HR has to discipline its boss. Outside counsel, boards of directors or shareholder boards are good resources when a CEO screws up, she added.

Social Media and CEO Recruiting

Prospective CEOs should also keep in mind that social media accounts are a treasure trove of information about candidates, and some of the information that is found is enough to make an employer or would-be business partner decide to pull an offer, Springer and Scott said.

The biggest mistake people make is inflating their LinkedIn profiles, because it’s possible to research those facts, Springer said. As people get more successful, the accomplishments and credentials listed on a resume often shrink to the ones that are real, he added. While it may be a mistake made when that individual was just starting out in his or her career, it can also show “that this individual is capable of being untrustworthy,” Springer said.

Other details that are often fudged by candidates include schools attended, licenses and credentials, he said. On the flip side, employers should dig deeper when they see information that has been omitted, because it may have been removed because of trouble in a prior position or scandal in their past, Springer said.

Social media accounts have made all of these potential problems that much easier to find, Springer said. “10 years ago it wasn’t this easy to expose people’s lies,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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