I recently attended a talk on personal branding given by Dorie Clark, bestselling author of “Stand Out,” at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
At the conclusion of the talk, I asked Dorie her opinion of employers that restrict employees attempting to brand themselves using social media. I was in agreement with Dorie’s answer that employees should be allowed to build their personal brand.
Employers are concerned that employees frequently writing and posting could embarrass or negatively impact a company’s reputation. What employers fear are employees who build their reputations outside their business, making them more attractive to recruiters and other employers.
I used to observe employers attempt to retain employees by denying them training or asking them to work long hours to make it harder to network and attend interviews. Today I see employers creating processes for approving employees social media posts that are often arbitrary, slow moving and without transparency.
Some employees have told me that their posts have lost some relevancy as weeks and months pass waiting for employer approval. Employers in the financial industry, hiding behind the excuse of compliance and regulatory approval, have told employees to stay completely off social media.
The courts and the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) have weighed in a with variety of opinions, many of which have tilted in the direction of employees having some right to free speech. I understand employers’ point of view and their concern about protecting their reputations. I also would advise employees to not use social media to rant about their work grievances, how much they dislike their boss or to speak ill of their employer. An emotional outburst on social media disparaging an employer could stay with the writer throughout one’s career.
Employees creating original content, or commenting online, is an opportunity for employees to further intellectually engage, stretch themselves and grow as leaders in their field. This growth is beneficial to the employer as new relationships are formed, employees think of new ways to analyze and solve problems, and the company enhances its reputation having an emerging industry superstar as a member of their team.
Employers that hold back their employees, and don’t let them grow, run the risk of sliding into obsolescence. Employees pushing the boundaries of their expertise will bring new knowledge that has been vetted online (and likely offline as strong online relationships can lead to strong offline relationships). This gift of constantly flowing knowledge into companies will keep employers updated on changes in their industry. Employers can use this as an effective feedback mechanism to allow themselves to pivot quickly when necessary.
Job security is a relic of the past. Anybody can be fired at any time for any reason. Every employee needs to create their own career insurance. Writing and posting on social media allows employees to expand their network of contacts. Employees can show the marketplace their insight, expertise, skills and desirability as a potential hire. As the global economy continues to progress towards a knowledge-based, gig job market the competition for employment will become furiously competitive.
Advanced degrees and specialized education are becoming so commonplace that these credentials will transition from being competitive advantages to being minimal requirements on a job listing. References have lost much of their impact on the hiring process as many employers, worried about the threat of litigation, provide nothing more than basic information about an employee when asked about an employee’s performance. A person’s ability to stand out from a crowd will be crucial to obtaining employment. Having a strong social media presence in one’s field will be a key tool necessary to differentiate oneself from the thousands that will be seeking every work opportunity of the future. TalentCulture’s CEO Meghan M. Biro wrote an excellent article, “Five Reasons Why Social Media Should Be On Your HR Radar,” that details the importance of your social media brand and recruiting..
Employers must let employees write and comment on their social media personal pages about their industry. Employees need to be thoughtful and professional about every post they write, and every comment they make as they are creating a permanent record for all potential employers. All posts should contain an employee disclosure that their posts and comments are personal and do not reflect the views of their employers.