Thursday, March 26, 2015

Employer Branding, FTC Guidelines & the #Hashtag

According to SHRM, employer branding “communicates an organization’s mission and values and what makes it a unique and attractive place to work.”  Recruiting thought leaders extoll the virtues of building a solid employer brand, which leads to improved applicant quality.  Becoming an employer of choice requires an organization to broadcast its mission and values, and who better to speak for an employer than employees themselves?

An employee’s use of social media is an important part of employee branding.  It allows employees to share what they like about their jobs and their employers’ products or services.  Employees use their personal social media accounts to post pictures of company gatherings, describe perks, and generally show off why they like where they work. This positive exposure can mean more people want to work for the organization, and that can build a talent pipeline which lowers recruitment costs and time-to-hire. All good, but when employees act as brand ambassadors, organizations face some risk.

One obvious risk is the misuse of social media.  What if the employee says something incorrect or negative about the company? What if the employee shares confidential information?  Companies should have social media policies that cover these topics.

Another, less well known risk relates to the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines.  The Guidelines, which exist to prevent misleading advertising, are based on the idea that consumers have a right to know when a person endorsing a product or service works for the producer or provider.  The Guidelines require that employees disclose their “material relationship” when endorsing their employer, its products, or its services.  This means that if an employee posts a favorable comment about her employer, she needs to disclose that she works there or risk running afoul of the Guidelines.  Note that there is no risk to the employee herself - the FTC only regulates the advertising company (that is, the employer) and not the employee.

Some companies require that employees disclose their employment in their social media profiles and include a disclaimer stating that their posts do not reflect the views of their employer.  Under the FTC Guidelines, however, disclosing the relationship in a social media profile is not enough.  Instead, the FTC wants employees to disclose the relationship in the post itself.  So how does an employee do that and how does an employer require it?  One option is hashtags!

Employers, through their social media policies, can require that employees disclose their employment relationship by using an appropriate (and maybe even creative and fun) hashtag. An employee can post, link, or show videos and pictures using a hashtag like #ilovemyjob, #lookwhatigettodo, #happyXYZemployee, #lookwhatidid, #workperk, #ad, and many, many more.  The hashtag, which need not be long or detailed, will serve to disclose the employment relationship and will also make it easy to find the tweet, Instagram, or Facebook post.

Becoming an employer of choice involves lots of moving parts, including finding the right brand ambassadors to share information.  The FTC Guidelines can’t be ignored, but they need not deter employers from launching branding initiatives.  Employers and employees can creatively comply.

Posted by: Kate Bischoff 
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