A bad online reputation can come back to haunt you.
Just ask any job seeker who didn’t heed the advice that career coaches often provide: Delete those public party pictures from your Facebook accounts, because recruiters will definitely take a peek. Research proves these coaches are right: A 2011 survey by the social monitoring service Reppler found that 91 percent of recruiters researched job candidates on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Unfortunately, the warning about protecting your online reputation hasn’t quite reached senior executives. A 2012 survey by Stanford University and The Conference Board found that only 32 percent of senior executives monitored social media websites to identify risks to their organizations—including risks to the company’s reputation. They could soon regret not monitoring these websites.
The accessibility of social media sites makes it easy for customers, employees, former employees and job candidates to express their experiences—good, bad and indifferent—with an organization, making these sites a powerful tool to bolster or harm a business’s reputation and brand.
“It’s definitely important for employers to pay attention to these websites and to what their employees think about them,” said Maddie Grant, CAE, chief social media strategist at SocialFish LLC, a blog on social media for associations and nonprofits, and co-author of Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (Que Publishing, 2011). “You can bet that 100 percent of potential employees are looking at them to see whether a company is worth working for or not.”
Human resource departments should have a role in monitoring an organization’s online reputation, according to sources familiar with the issue.
“There are three good reasons why HR should monitor social media websites for reputation,” said Jennifer McClure, president of Cleveland-based recruitment consulting firm Unbridled Talent, LLC. “First, if you search and find that nobody is talking about your reputation as an employer, that’s a problem because you are not helping your brand. Second, if they are saying good things, you should know about that so you can tell others and perpetuate your brand. Finally, if they are saying bad things, you need to address it because research shows that people have a higher regard for employers who respond to negative comments.”
For HR professionals who have never monitored social media websites, the biggest challenge may be deciding how to begin. Lars Schmidt, head of talent acquisition and innovation for National Public Radio, advises employers to start slowly.
“I recommend that people go on Twitter first because it’s an open platform,” Schmidt said. “You can follow anyone you want, but you don’t need to post anything until you are comfortable. You can also search for your company and see what people are posting. It’s a great social media classroom.”
McClure recommends starting with LinkedIn for many of the same reasons.
“With LinkedIn, you can create a personal and company profile, see news feeds and read what people are saying about your organization,” she observed. “It’s a great way to start monitoring [your company’s] reputation without really putting yourself out there.”
It is also important to know who in your organization is creating the content and responding to comments—usually the marketing or recruiting functions, McClure noted. She suggests that HR create a response plan in advance, something similar to the Air Force’s web-posting response assessment, which outlines how Air Force personnel should respond to blogs. The plan, however, is just a first step.
“HR needs to define their organization’s employer brand and then be sure to communicate it to all employees,” said McClure. “This creates a positive culture that employees can embrace and communicate through their social media activities.”
A few social media websites have created tools to help employers measure and manage their employment brand and reputation. LinkedIn, for example, launched the Talent Brand Index last year, to help companies assess how strong their brand is in their marketplace. The index is calculated by measuring engagement and dividing that score by reach.
“Engagement” is the number of people who follow a company, view a business’s career or profile page, or peruse the company’s job openings. “Reach” is the number of people who click on employee profiles on LinkedIn and connect with them. The higher the index number, the stronger the employer brand, according to LinkedIn officials.
Another example is Glassdoor’s Employer Center, launched in late March. This free service, which is still in beta mode, allows employers to read what current and former employees are saying about their organizations and how they rate them. Users can respond to reviews and monitor what jobs are most attractive to candidates. In addition, the Employer Center offers employers diagnostics, allowing them to see how their brand awareness has grown over time and to benchmark their brand against those of their competitors.
“With the emergence of social media, employers should know that people are talking about your brand,” says Schmidt. “It is in their best interests to actively monitor these sites and look for opportunities to influence their reputation and brands in positive ways.”
Sharon Horrigan is a freelance writer and an editor based in Asheville, N.C.