There were a few letters marked “Never sent. Never signed” that were discovered in Abraham Lincoln’s desk after his death. When he was upset with someone he would write a letter expressing his anger but would refrain from sending it to the intended person. This practice allowed him to vent his anger, yet not allow needless or unpleasant consequences. One of the famous unsent letters was to Gen. George G Meade, who was blamed for letting Robert E Lee escape after Gettysburg. Unfortunately, in today’s age of social media, people have “lost the art of the unsent angry letter” – an expression used in a NY times article by Maria Konnikova.
Much damage is caused to organizations due to improper opinions or information shared by employees in the social media. People, in such frustrating circumstances, would refrain from expressing in a similar manner in front of a group of people in the physical world. However, somehow such inhibitions are shed when it comes to the virtual world. Unfortunately, the virtual world and the physical world are linked and that’s where the problem arises. Organizations could face potential damage due to the erring behavior of an employee on social media. However, about 59% of companies who were surveyed admitted that they do not perform any social media risk assessment (Source: Grant Thornton). It also means that 41% of those surveyed do have some form of risk assessment in place. So, what are the risk factors that they need to consider?
Here are some of the common risk factors that need to be considered when drafting a social media policy and when training employees about using social media responsibly.
Risk to Company’s Reputation: There have been instances of employees posting offensive content that damages a company’s reputation. Irate employees having a bad day vent their feelings on Facebook assuming they are sharing with only close friends and family members but they do not realize that anything online is very rarely private. The infamous video posted by Dominos Pizza employees costed them their jobs but most importantly the organization had to go an extra mile to curtail the damage done to its reputation. A quick search online will bring many such instances to the forefront.
Leaking of Sensitive Information: Seemingly innocent information shared online could actually reveal a lot more than that is obvious to those who are scouting for such information. For example, if a senior executive of an organization updates his location indicating presence in a particular city, competitors could guess about an important meeting or a deal that is going to be struck. Also, employees share pictures, audio and video files and sometimes unwittingly reveal more than they should if they are not careful.
Legal or Compliance Violations: While employees are well-versed with standard and acceptable rules of interaction and engagement ‘in person’, they do not perceive the need to extend the same for their online presence. Most of the time, employees are not even aware that their seemingly naive remarks in social media forums could actually be a breach of their duty, for which they could be legally liable.
We no longer express through physical letters that give us the time to cool down and exercise our discretion before forwarding to the intended recipient. In the days of WhatsApp and instant messaging systems, we first send and then think. We therefore do not have the option of an unsent angry letter. Therefore, it is of paramount importance for organizations to sensitize and train their employees on what is acceptable and what is NOT acceptable as they share their views in public through social media…and may be create a virtual alternative to the “unsent angry letter”.