One of the newest trends in social media is planning for your digital afterlife. You know, that sort-of-creepy, could-be-cool, legacy opportunity to keep posting long after you’re no longer living sort of thing?
This article isn’t about that.
This is about former employees – still kicking and screaming – who leave your company, either voluntarily or through a series of unfortunate choices. Many of these individuals never seem to get around to updating their work status on social networks. I’m focusing primarily on LinkedIn, as that is the go-to site to look for, or look up, potential employees or businesses.
You know these people. They leave a job and start doing contract work or short-term gigs for friends and family. Some take an extended work break, hang out at home or return to school. Whatever it is they are doing, they just never seem to update their LinkedIn profile.
Why is this even an issue?
Let’s look at it from the former employee’s point of view (again, using LinkedIn as our example). Let’s say that Ralph Smith voluntarily leaves your firm to strike out on his own. He starts looking for short-term gig work across his social networks, but forgets to update his LinkedIn work history. Ralph bids on a job and the Project Manager handling the bids decides to look up his history on LinkedIn. He sees that Ralph still works at your company and contacts the HR department. The PM finds out that Ralph no longer works there. Now Ralph looks like he is not on his game. Another possibility is that the PM may see your company as a direct competitor. Ralph’s (outdated) active employment with you is now a conflict of interest, and Ralph’s bid is not considered … poor Ralph!
“Update your work history, Ralph!”
Next let’s look at the disgruntled employee scenario. We will call her Betty Jones. She left your company under a dark cloud, and didn’t update her LinkedIn profile. Months later, a client of yours remembers Betty and decides to reach out to her on LinkedIn about your company doing a new project. The client has no idea that Betty no longer works for your company. Are you willing to bet that Betty behaves and responds in a professional manner and refers the client back to your company? How much are you prepared to lose if Betty takes this opportunity to lash out and damage your company’s reputation?
“Oh, Betty … NO!”
Remember, a toxic employee’s effect doesn’t necessarily end when they are terminated. Your company needs a policy for all employees governing their actions and comments with regard to your company. It should include comments made on social networks and websites during – and for a considerable amount of time after – their employment with you. This, of course, is only enforceable if you become aware of any violations. Unfortunately, by the time you are made aware, some damage has already been done.
What can you do?
Take a moment to run a little experiment, just for kicks. Look up your company’s business page on LinkedIn, and then click on the See All Employees on LinkedIn link that is next to the connections link. Scroll through; see if you can find any former employees who still appear as an active employee. I’ll wait for you …
If you didn’t find any stragglers, you’re lucky. Clearly, your company is on top of their game. Congratulations! On the other hand, if you did find any profiles that should no longer be listed as current employees or, even more alarming, people who have NEVER worked for your firm (it happens), what now? If you use LinkedIn for marketing your company, you want to get this taken care of as soon as possible, but your options can be limited.
Below are some steps you can take:
- Send a message via LinkedIn to that person
- Ask HR to send a letter to the individual’s last known email and/or home mailing address requesting that they correct their online profile as soon as possible
- Inform LinkedIn via the Notice of Inaccurate Profile Information page – you’ll need to copy and paste the URL of the profile that is inaccurate. Please note that this is not a guaranty (sorry LinkedIn) that the profile will be updated, and may take several attempts
- If all else fails, see if you can reach out to them via other social networks. Send them a private message asking them to please contact the HR department. Always let HR handle these profile update requests!
Fair warning: you may have to take these steps over and over to get the results you desire.
How can you avoid future headaches?
In every exit interview, Human Resources should discuss this matter with each individual. HR should remind the employee of the social network policy terms, and explain the need for them to update their online profiles immediately. Note to HR Reps: Be sure to ask whether any of their social network profiles lists their work email as the primary contact email. Ask them to change them to their personal email address. Trust me on this; it is nearly impossible to change a forgotten password, or update the primary email address, without the access to the email address used to create that profile.
As you can see, there are many reasons why updating social network profiles has become an important issue, especially those of us in marketing. At the end of the day, all marketing people really want is unlimited, accurate data, humorous cat memes, and a clean profile for our businesses. Amirite?