A New Consideration For Termination – Social Media and HR

A New Consideration For Termination – Social Media and HR

If you have read my blog over the past year or seen Impact99, you likely realize that I am uber-passionate about the need for HR to grab hold of social media, learn about it, understand how it can affect their organization, and how they can use it internally to create more connected, innovative workplaces. There is so much magic that can be created with social technology, and I love helping workplace leaders explore the possibilities.

This week, someone I know was terminated from employment with cause, and the situation has highlighted a new set of social media considerations for HR.

Now, I’ve had to perform my fair share of terminations, and know that this happens every day to people all across Canada. But this case has become very interesting because, as many situations do today, it is playing out quite publicly on twitter.

Here’s a coles notes version of the story.

It started in December, when Dave Reynolds, a radio DJ in Campbell River BC, led a massive and exceptionally successful social media campaign on twitter last year, to raise money and food for his local food bank.  I wrote a blog about it HERE, because it was my favourite social good story of 2011.

On Friday, at Social Media Camp in Vancouver, Dave received a “Coastie” award for the Social Media campaign of the year.

On Tuesday, Dave was terminated with just cause.

On Wednesday, the hashtag #HastaLaVista (for Vista Radio) became a place where Dave’s “tribe” and fans came to express their disappointment at his firing from Vista Radio.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the news outlets began picking up the story. Here’s one video from CTV.

So what are the HR lessons we can learn from this situation?

Termination Consideration #1: Always check “special” dates before scheduling a termination.

This is really a no-brainer, and one that really has nothing to do with social media. Was there a special occasion (birthday / anniversary / award) that was very close to the date of termination? If so, it’s best to either move the date or ensure you have a plan for dealing with any extra fallout based on the special date.

In this case, while there is speculation of much more petty/sinister motivations (which I’ll speak to in a moment), at minimum, the leaders should have realized that terminating someone two days after they received an award was probably not the best thing to do.

Termination Consideration #2: Celebrate your employees’ achievements – it makes you look good. (OK this isn’t really about termination but it’s something to think about!)

My understanding of the award is that it is generally for individuals who have used social media creatively to engage fans and followers. People are nominated by others and a public vote is held. The process takes several months and is very public. Apparently, on Friday, at the Social Media Camp where Dave won his award, the event producers received a “Cease and Desist” letter saying that the award belonged to the radio station, not to Dave, and that he must be removed from the nomination. Sean Smith (@rantinginCR on twitter) wrote this post that explains the situation.

Leadership lesson here: when your employees are recognized for things they do on behalf of your company, it looks good on YOU! And it looks incredibly petty to undermine their success or the recognition others are trying to bestow on them.

In this situation, even if 99.7 The River felt that they deserved the award, this is something that they could have spoken to Dave about sometime in the several months leading up to the award ceremony, rather than involving the Social Media Camp organizers at the last minute. Knowing Dave, I know he didn’t run his amazing social media campaign for the River Relief fund to get an award. He did it because he genuinely cares. And he would have happily shared or given the award to the station. Discussion over. Great DJ still has job. Community still engaged. Radio Station gets addtional publicity. Everyone hugs and carries on.

In fact, at the last minute, the organizers of Social Media Camp did change the presentation of the award and publicly recognized the 99.7 The River, with Dave representing them graciously. Vista Radio is also recognized publicly for Campaign of the Year on the Social Media Camp Awards website HERE.

Termination Consideration #3: How will this termination will affect the company?

People are loyal to people. When terminating someone, in the past, we (hopefully) would have looked at how this would affect co-workers and the team. Today, that consideration is much broader, even for those who are not radio or media personalities. Does the employee have a social media presence? Do they engage with influencers? What might their reaction be to the termination?

I’m not suggesting you don’t terminate someone who just isn’t right for your organization. I am suggesting you prepare and get ahead of some of the backlash. In this case, the radio station was fully out-humanized by Dave’s community on twitter. The fans reacted emotionally and quickly to the news, and it took the station more than a day to tweet their response in the form of a scripted and professional press release. By that time, over a million people had been reached through the twitter campaign and the news media had grabbed a hold of the story.

Termination Consideration #4: Make sure you have just cause if you’re terminating with cause.

I don’t know the whole story here and I’m not suggesting that the company doesn’t have just cause. I’m also not a lawyer, but there are some basic considerations I’ve always included when terminating with cause.

First, how critical was the behaviour that led to the termination – was it a serious breech of an essential part of the employment contract? Just cause is generally reserved for extremely serious breeches of contract. How senior is the person and how long have they been there? The more senior / length of time, generally the more serious the behaviour must be. Was the behaviour tolerated in the past? If so, cause is more difficult to prove. Was there a warning and period for correction of the behaviour? For most cases, it’s necessary to show that the person was warned and knew that if this behaviour continues, they will lose their job.

Termination Consideration #5: Be human.

Social media is somewhat new ground for HR but it has often struck me that Human Resources practitioners are often the least “human” of the people in an organization. This is a generalization, yes, so please don’t come after me with pitchforks. It may be a hazard of the job, as HR is often the secret-keepers, policy-makers, and organization-protectors. Regardless, being human, especially publicly, may be somewhat new ground for HR.

It is interesting to note that while Vista Radio released a statement on June 11th stating that Dave had been released, it was a very canned statement. They did later release a somewhat more human statement on June 14th, after much uproar from the social media community and news outlets. Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late.

Termination Consideration #6: Take care of the “Survivors”.

Those people who are still working in the organization need some attention. Some will feel guilty or upset that their teammate is gone. Some will feel immensely loyal to the company and not take well to reactions against the company.

In this case, I think it would have been best to prepare the rest of the team for the potential backlash. One of the station’s employees jumped into the twitter stream in an attempt to defend the radio station and her comment only incited more passion from the crows. She was met with several argumentative tweets back. Providing some guidelines to your existing employees to help them with how to deal with questions or reactions from the public is an important consideration. Note, I’m not a PR expert, so would love to hear what you would recommend in this respect!

An additional consideration about social media and HR: Who owns your social media campaigns?

In this case, one major issue is that the radio station itself isn’t overly engaging on social media. They have a twitter account from which they send a tweet or two every couple of days and have just over 300 followers. They haven’t figured out that social media is SOCIAL. Dave had. He tweeted almost 24/7 from the River Relief truck, had conversations with people on social media, recorded videos, thanked individuals for their contributions, and his fans reacted by making the campaign viral. The radio station obviously supported the campaign, since he was broadcasting from a transport truck for two weeks, but they didn’t build the following, the loyalty, and the passion that Dave did.

So who owns the River Relief campaign? In the eyes of twitter followers, people who nominated and voted on his social media award, and the Social Media Camp Organizers, Dave Reynolds does. Based on the “cease and desist” letter they sent, the radio station feels they do. This will be interesting to watch, and relates to other cases, like the PhoneDog one where a community manager left and took his twitter followers with him.

All in all, many of the considerations for termination are common sense. Social media has certainly added some broader impact that HR and leaders must be aware of and think about when they are making decisions that affect people.

What else can HR learn from this public outcry at someone’s termination? Please comment below – I think there are many more lessons!

16 Comments

  1. Denise
    June 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Well written, all very valid points! Thank You!!!

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 16, 2012 at 10:29 am

      Thanks for reading Denise!

      Reply »
  2. June 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Pam.. this was excellent... spot on in so many ways and in so many topics. As I told Sean Smith yesterday, this has at least 3 to 5 good types of stories and lessons. You put it in good context. Great job and I know we all wish Dave the best. thanks

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks Jeff! And I'm sure there are exciting and impactful things for Dave on the horizon. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next.

      Reply »
  3. June 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Great post. I was glad to see this article written from an HR perspective. I've been watching this story play out on the internet and it has been fascinating to say the least. While true that the radio station in question has a relatively small online following, the actual community is not extremely large either, so it may reflect that. In that view, they possibly never anticipated the breadth of the twitter reaction to this particular termination. The radio station may well have had a social media policy in place with regard to who owns social media campaigns, and may indeed have just cause. Twitter can ask for reasons "why" until it is blue in the face, but due to laws governing employee/employer matters, Vista are unable to divulge the details of the dismissal. And so we may never know the other side of the story (which is too bad because I am so curious!). As you point out, social media really has added something that HR and leaders must be aware of and think about, not least of which is how the fallout affects the remaining employees and a policy for their comportment online. This is a great case study of social media behavior, good and bad, in so many ways. There is much to be learned from it.

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 17, 2012 at 5:57 am

      Such great points JC! It is impossible to know the details of what truly happened and why. Having given my fair share of "so and so has left the company to pursue other opportunities" explanations, I can see Vista's challenge. Regardless of what actually happened here, this new factor of the reach of social media is an important one for HR. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Let's see how this one continues to unfold...

      Reply »
  4. June 17, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Having been at the Social Media event in question and having met Dave- this was especially shocking to read about not 24 hours later. Great post Pam from an HR lens and when the dust settles there I bet this story is used in many many case studies/speeches on the power of social... AND the game changing boundaries it is creating for HR> C

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 17, 2012 at 6:01 am

      I bet everyone at the Social Media Camp was shocked! This new realm for HR is fascinating and frightening for companies. The more situations like this, the more we can learn how to prepare, protect, and position organizations for this social world. Thanks for commenting, partner!

      Reply »
      • June 17, 2012 at 12:35 pm

        Jumping in! I have been wondering what SMC's take is on all this and how it will impact their policies on clarifying criteria for nominations. As in, is a nomination/award for the campaign, the company or the individual...perhaps they will find they need separate awards for both. I believe the issue of individual vs corporate online presence and contribution will become ever touchier and more important to distinguish between.

        Reply »
        • Pam (Author)
          June 20, 2012 at 6:41 am

          Good question - and I agree - this issue of personal vs corporate presence is a big one. I anticipate several more of these types of stories as organizations try to catch up with the wave of social media and navigate the waters.

          Reply »
  5. June 20, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Great post from the most important angle from this story. There are many layers to this story but looking at from the PR angle which is where I live Vista could not have acted more poorly. Like you said, instead of celebrating an impressive accomplishment by one of their employees they chose to focus on all the wrong things. From a PR angle, they cut off their noses to spite their faces. In fact, they made pretty much every mistake in the PR textbook. But what this example shows is that this is the just the beginning. This story is going to become more and more common. There are many companies looking at Klout scores before they hire people. They WANT social media superstars and influencers (quantity and not necessarily quality) but what happens when the personal brand becomes bigger than the corporate brand? What will happen as these superstars build trust, collect followers, raise Klout scores, drive engagement and even overshadow the employer? As you noted, people follow people, not corporations. There are many lessons to be learned here. And we have only just begun.

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 20, 2012 at 6:40 am

      Such great points Susie - thanks so much for the PR angle. It's so interesting watching cases like this unfold. I think corporate cultures will need to change to be more "Human" and allow for (and celebrate) the successes of the individual teammates. Big corporate egos can't survive in this social world as the personal profile grows bigger than the company one... Very interesting.

      Reply »
  6. June 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    All extremely good points. I don't see the impacts of social media in HR written about too often, so this was a fresh topic. It's really amazing to me how social media has changed every single aspect of business today...I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg as well. Great post!

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 26, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for reading and commenting Jonathan! I agree - there's not a lot about social media and HR out there, and I think this is an issue... social media has a huge impact on business and on employees, and HR needs to understand it and use it to engage and connect the workplace more effectively. It's something I'm extremely passionate about, and blog about often!

      Reply »
  7. June 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Having retired from the corporate world four years ago, just as social media was coming into being, it is very interesting for me to see how social media has, in fact, played out over this time - and to the extent that it has influenced not only the hiring of staff (viewing Facebook pages etc.), but the firing of staff as well, (e.g. case under discussion). Thank you for a very informative and insightful discourse.

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      June 26, 2012 at 8:33 am

      So true Carol - social media is impacting a lot of what we do in the workplace. And I see possibilities of using social technology beyond hiring and firing to help in increasing collaboration, innovation, connectivity within the workplace. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Reply »

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