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As a user of the Internet, for work or for play, it is extremely important to know and understand what the consequences can be when you use social media.
Many do not.
I am constantly amazed that people get caught doing, saying or showing things online which they later regret and the consequences of their actions can be very severe. It certainly changes the way people see them, and can change the way people treat them, with bullying, job loss, or lack of promotion some of the worse case scenarios.
I learned this the hard way. In the almost nine years since I started blogging I did so with the mistaken assumption that no one read my it and that the 5-10 hits a day were complete strangers who arrived there by error. Not having any comments, and being able to see the search engine terms used to get there it was easy for me to write whatever I wanted in complete anonymity. My blog was my forum to bitch, moan and complain about whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it. Getting it all off my chest made me feel great.
Then it all came crashing down. I can recall this as if it were yesterday, when I hit send on one particular post from 2005 in which I complained about my employer and also lambasted some colleagues for their lack of work ethic. I never thought for a moment that there was a remote possibility that anyone from my company was reading my blog and that the information I wrote in that post, or in any of my previous posts were going to be spread around the office and used against me, like they were.
My hits over the next couple days went from 5-10 to 150 on that post and I started to receive anonymous ominous comments on that post. Stuff started to disappear from my desk, and I would get hang-ups in the middle of the night. Then some of my colleagues would start random conversations with me and include information from my blog that they would not have known if they did not read it there, like “how was the movie you saw Saturday with your wife at Yorkdale.” I was perplexed.
It was soon thereafter when I realized that I had made a really stupid mistake and if I wanted to continue to work there without having my stuff disappear, I would need to go into damage control and implement my own social media policy.
Some of the key points are below;
1) No mention of work. Ever. I’m a blogger building my brand first and foremost.
2) No mention of names of my family or friends unless they give me permission.
3) No posting of pictures on any form of social media except for family pictures on Facebook that I would be comfortable sharing with the world or a future employer.
4) I would never say anything online that I do not believe in or would not say face-to-face to someone.
5) If I am going to be critical of something or someone it had to be fact based and that required sources and a ton of research. No gossip or hearsay.
6) I am my own brand. I want my brand to be respected and taken seriously so I will have to treat others that way – good and bad.
The next thing I had to do was take a step back and see how this new social media policy worked for. I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress and kept it hidden until I was sure that I could play by these rules. Once I came out from hiding, I not only started to play fairly, but I started to informally educate others about the consequences of using social media for I realized that whatever you post that can be traced back to you, or your brand, can and will be used against you at some point in your life.
I have seen people tagged in photos where they are with friends and drinking, and the picture is most unflattering – maybe they are winking but look drunk – or the comments to a photo are unflattering or rude, or a photo taken in an inappropriate position – like on the toilet, and even an innocent comment like “I’m bored” which shows up next to a mention about your place of employment. All these examples can have long-lasting consequences far from the original intent. Ignoring them is not an option and just removing them usually does not suffice either. Not being in that situation is the best choice a person can make, and letting others know if equally as important.
I’m being tough on myself, but it’s nothing compared to the tolerance that certain industries have for themselves and when tracking their massive employee base.
Financial services, for example, can be especially tough due to the high regulation and as an employer they must ensure that their employees are clear about the organizations expectations and the social media policy.
I, for example, when hiring for my tax units always spends a few minutes to check out the candidates Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and then I Googled them to see if there are any warning flags. To not do so, would be not be responsible on my behalf. If they post anything and their profiles are not neat and tidy it means either they are going to be social media nightmares for the company or I am going to have to do a lot of coaching and mentoring them to ensure they don’t get caught online harming the company’s image of their own brand.
One of the first discussions I would have with staff is to caution them about what they say when using certain social media outlets, like LinkedIn. If they are choosing to comment on posts and join discussions they have to remember that they are not just individuals commenting there but they are also employees so they have to be cautious to keep their comments on topic and away from anything which could get them fired or the company sued.
I treat all my online activities, whether blogged, tweeted, liked or commented on, which relate to any external business as being monitored and recorded by someone if the company is not doing it themselves. I expect the same from my staff, my colleagues and my peers. I know when I talk to staff who are not practicing safe, social media that it is just a matter of time before it catches up to them.
Implementing an effective social media compliance process isn’t rocket science especially when the company has a clear social media policy and everyone abides by it and that policy has to be more than reactionary and punitive. Effective companies outline how they interact with the world via social media and how they expect their employees to do so as well. Leading organizations empower employees to build the corporate brand but it is certainly a team effort every step of the way.
Almost every other department has a key role in shaping the message. Marketing defines the scope of the message, the IT group outlines which social technologies will be used and provides the devices to be used while the legal and social media compliance groups are critical to ensure that the messages meet the necessary regulatory criteria. Once all that is in order it is absolutely critical for the training and learning group to be engaged so that the organization be trained to understand the pros and cons of using the various forms of social media, the most common being Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
What most employees in large organizations do not know unless they are trained is that any output on a social media platform goes through a series of serious checks and balances before someone hits send. Static content, for example – such as Facebook and LinkedIn profiles – require documented pre-approval before being posted online, while interactive content such as updates to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networks do not need to be vetted, however, regularly monitoring the content is extremely critical to ensure that there are no compliance violations or negative comments.
What most employees fail to understand is that these tight rules not only apply to business-related items posted by the organization but also if it comes from the employees personal social media accounts. It pays to think twice before speaking about your organization, their practices, clients or earnings.
Organizations keeping a close eye on their social media content in order to control the public message and ensure it is compliant with the organization’s policies and procedures. It also allows organizations to control their message and that makes sense from a brand perspective as quick accurate responses to comments shows a proactive organization while quick responses to, or removal of, derogatory or inappropriate messages displays a proactive social media policy. Keeping negative comments unanswered in a thread is a message to the general public that it is okay to pile on with more negative comments and spam the site. If these comments are removed and/or responded to quickly than others will think twice before hitting send.
Even prior to the monitoring the output, employees usually are not aware that many organizations prefer to control the message by utilizing tools to prevent rogue posts from ever hitting the web. Organizations assign limited permissions to certain employees and once that employee is finished creating a tweet, comment or update it is them moved into a queue to be edited or for managerial review before it moves to the compliance group, then on to marketing before it is approved and posted.
The best of these systems even come with their own archiving tools already built-in as financial services are heavily regulated and keeping all outgoing messages for a certain period of time, are a requirement of regulators.
Banning social communications altogether and hoping for the best, is no longer a viable alternative. Restricting communication, access to information and people networking is a practice which many organizations have been moving away from since smartphones have become commonplace on the hips of many employees. There is also the opinion that if organizations continue to resist, that their competitors and customers are moving ahead and talking about them to their current customers and to their potential customers.
To further that point, many organizations who are already heavy in social media are forging ahead with new social media positions, such as the social media compliance officer who among other things, lines up tweets for management’s approval and works closely with legal, marketing and training to ensure the right message is getting out and that all staff have been trained in a meaningful manner on the risk of non-compliance to these policies both for their personal brand and for their company.
Banks in particular, are moving forward quickly in all areas of social media, and with great reason. These customers tend to be more affluent and faster adopters of new, expense-cutting technology such as online and mobile banking, which makes them particularly valuable at a time when revenues are low and expense cutting makes the most sense. Getting them on the bank’s side also helps on the public relations front as these tech savvy folks are just as likely to comment online about good experiences, as they are to complain about bad ones.
So next time you fire up the computer, smartphone or tablet, make sure that before you press send that you are doing so responsibly. You don’t want to ruin your brand in a manner of seconds (or a few words) considering how long it took you to build it up.