Give them a voice and they might just use it ….

Here’s an interesting dilemma … as a forward looking organisation you let your employees have access to blogs and social networks because you want them to join the conversation.

On a social utility service, like Facebook, some disgruntled customers set up a ‘hate’ group about your organisation. In among the rants appear some negative comments from one or two of your own employees! What do you do??

On the one hand, you invited them to join the conversation in the first place and they’re just expressing their views … on the other, they’re damaging your brand. Leaving them to continue making negative comments feels uncomfortable … leaning on them through their line managers feels like censorship. Accepted social media ‘wisdom’ says you should engage ‘in the channel in which the comments were made’ to try to turn things around … but do you really want to get into a ‘dialogue’ with a mixture of disgruntled customers and employees??

What would you do …?


  1. Straightforward. They shouldn’t bring the company who feeds them into disrepute. It’s a commonsense issue, and if they don’t understand how they should raise issues, and they don’t understand they *will* be found out…

    … are we following @jowyang’s advice about

    That *would* enagage with customers…
    … and no, disgruntled employees should fix things internally, not throw rocks from outside…

  2. It doesn’t feel quite so straightforward to me … are you saying that it is OK for employees to ‘join the conversation’ as long as they only say positive stuff? Isn’t that just PR … where’s the ‘authenticity’? What if they feel they have already exhausted internal channels and got no where?

  3. I think this is an interesting question. On one hand, the reputational damage that may occur to an individual for posting such comments should ultimatly be enough to disuade this kind of behaviour. However, in practice this approach probably does not work as the ability to create multiple identities to access these social networks means that people can flame away without any reputational loss.

    My own personal take on this is that you should be willing to take on such criticism (however inaccurate it might be) as this shows a willingness to engage and participate in an open way which probably does more for the brand – at the end of the day most people will be able to recognise the disgruntled flamers from the genuine issues that might occur.

  4. I agree with you Ricardo … although I suspect that if this kind of thing did happen, there would be a lot of pressure to ‘do’ something about it from senior managers … by ‘do’ I mean come down hard on the critics …

  5. tbh Richard, in a company like yours/mine, employees have both an open line to the head lad and a specific channel for serious issues, so there shouldn’t be a problem they can’t resolve.

    If there is, then the way they engage should be both professional and open; joining hate/flame groups and sledging isn’t the way forward.

    As Ricardo says:
    anyone can have multiple personas – but if they *don’t* identify themselves as a disgruntled employee, the impact isn’t the same. If they do… they will sooner or later identify themselves.

    As far as authenticity goes… if we feel there are authentic issues to address, why not engage in sorting a wider range of issues…

    I tried to get engagement on Facebook a while back, offering to join a team to address these sort of issues… I wonder if the time is right to try the route…

    if we can’t/won’t engage corporately we shouldn’t leave a disgruntled employee the leeway to be an unofficial spokesman… which is why the rules are as they are.

  6. And as a quick link, I like Chris Brogan’s view.

    “Treat Your Community Like Adults

    Companies and organizations are most worried about how blogs and podcasts and wikis will be used. The truth is, most employee code of conduct policies cover this related to email use. It’s not much different. Don’t add another thousand rules as to what should go on within the social networks, except insofar as what differences come with the medium. For example, don’t bury people in what not to say. “

  7. No matter how tempting it is, banning people from making negative comments will be ultimately counter – productive.

    Consider how much more damaging to the brand it would be if negative comments are made under an alias by people saying they are employees but they are scared to use their real name?

    Habermas recognised that knowledge is a social activity (see ) despite the URL it’s not about marxism – it is however jargon-tastic!

    He also recognised that a conversation is made be peers (equals) and that it can only be made without outside pressures. I’m not a complete fan of the cluetrain, but if we do accept that we must join ‘the conversation’ then negative comments from employees are part of that agreement.

    Steve is morally right when he says that people shouldn’t do this, but I think it is not an effective technique to try to prevent it. Much better to join the conversation with positive comments (and fix the issues people are raising).

  8. Richard, from experience of managing communitites for our clients, we suggest that you take the negative comments and turn them into positive response, or at the very least, invite further response around the question ‘how would you improve matters?’. This way, you are continuing the ‘conversation’ and inviting the community member to participate in a dynamic, positive fashion that will throw up insights and ideas for your company.

    To be seen by the rest of your organisation to manage the negativity and enhance it is incredibly powerful, and shows that you care and are willing to listen to all the voices – a major benefit of social media.

  9. Interesting to see the slant on the Civil Serf blog.

    The Civil Service apparently hunted her down.

    Of course, in an organisation with easy access to management, where people feel valued, and there’s not a bullying culture, no-one would be frightened to speak up…
    … and there’d be an explicit policy encouraging blogging on work related issues…

    I still think that “disaffected employees” can be a real issue. What do you do? Ignore the posts; engage with them publicly?

    I’m surprised no-one has set up an account for my employer with – that might make it a bit harder *not* to engage online.

  10. I don’t think they should be regarded as a problem … if they have something tangible to ‘gripe’ about then it is good that they can air it and the employer has an opportunity to do something about it … if they don’t, no one will take them seriously anyway.

    Nice to see the Guardian blog quoting from Simon McManus … a fellow BT blogger!!

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