We are living in turbulent times. While the manhunt for Jürgen Conings continues, extreme right-wing groups are searching for support on social media and emotions are running high. And the woeful culmination of all this was when the VTM NIEUWS studio had to be evacuated last night after a threat against DPG Media in Antwerp. Many of these events provoke fierce reactions which people then post on their own social media or on that of other groups. But what happens when an employee of your company, using his or her own first name and surname, shares a racist post on social media? What if this person likes a racist post or agrees to participate in a related event?

The utility company Fluvius was confronted with this situation just this weekend. One of its employees posted ‘we support white terrorists’ on Facebook.

Even though it was a personal post which, at first sight, had nothing to with Fluvius, the company where he works, the utility company still suffered reputational damage. After all, what company would want to be associated with statements like this?

The Fluvius management reacted quickly on its own social media with the unambiguous message that they do not tolerate this type of language and that they will consider internally which steps must now be taken. Nevertheless, the media picked up on the story and prominently linked it to Fluvius in various articles.

For companies, these types of situations are like balancing on a tightrope. After all, to what extent may or can they compel what their employees post on their own personal social media? And which exact guidelines should apply? Does this apply only to racists posts? Or should this also apply to discrimination and hate speech in general?

More than ever before, it has become relevant for companies to have social media policies for their current and future employees. This way everyone knows which values are important for the organisation and which guidelines apply. It would also be advantageous if employers would work together with their employees on these issues. This will result in broader support for these initiatives within the organisation.

In turbulent times, crisis communication plans have proven their usefulness in reducing or preventing reputational damage. It is not merely a luxury to also integrate a social media policy into these crisis communication plans.

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