Is your company prepared to handle a hate speech incident?

Here are some tips for addressing problematic employee conduct and protecting your company’s reputation.

How to handle hate speech

Hate speech is one of those things that you recognize when you hear it, but defining it presents a challenge.

Google offers this definition: “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.” Hopefully, your employees share the opinion that “hate speech” should not be tolerated within the workplace. But what about outside the workplace?

While the line between employees’ private and professional lives is growing ever thinner—technology keeps them connected 24/7 and social media empowers them to be robust brand ambassadors—your employees are still individuals. Companies cannot program their personal behavior or regulate their speech, nor should employers try to constantly police it.

However, in the midst of the Black Lives Matters movement and the heightened discourse around systemic racism, employees’ personal online profiles are becoming an increasing concern for companies, as some social media groups are actively searching for and “calling out” individuals who have posted or responded to offensive hate speech. What was initially an employee’s personal post can quickly escalate into a corporate communication crisis.

Take these four steps to prevent, mitigate or resolve an ugly incident.

Revisit your company’s values. Do your values cover diversity, racial justice and inclusion? If not, consider adding a new value or language around an existing value that specifically addresses these important issues. And remember, for a company’s values to be authentic, they cannot be created in a vacuum. Involve employees in the process. Discuss any concerns they have about the company’s current culture, and incorporate their ideas.

Review your social media policy. Your employees can be positive representatives for your company—both in person and online. A thorough social media policy is a guideline for how they should conduct themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other apps. It should also serve to remind employees that while their social media account might be personal, their posts and comments can reflect back on the company.

With so much divisive content online, it is also important to include a strong statement that addresses hate speech to reinforce the company’s stance and reiterate that hateful or abusive language is not condoned by the company.

Respond promptly to online incidents. Be diligent about monitoring your corporate accounts, and be prepared to respond in a timely manner to posts that refer to your company or its employees in a negative way. (Ignoring online commentary will only make things worse.)

Consider possible scenarios, and create responses ahead of time. Just as you might have pre-prepared responses for conventional media inquiries, having a series of responses drafted for social media will enable you to respond quickly and consistently to a flurry of posts that could hit you at light speed.

Reaffirm your position. If your company has always promoted diversity and racial justice, reaffirm your company’s stance through a social media campaign. Feature employees from various backgrounds and the great contributions they have made to the company.

If your company has been less progressive on this particular issue, don’t force something. It will come across as disingenuous and contrived. Say something internally, too. Remind employees of your values of inclusion and your position on intolerance and hate speech. Finally, consider sharing with your employees some interesting books or podcasts on the history of racism and make them aware of diversity initiatives within the company. Education leads to enlightenment and empowerment.

Nothing good was ever accomplished from a place of hate. Be proud to stand up for diversity and inclusion. Our world is a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds and because of that, beautiful ideas have flourished through open minds and collaboration.

Natasha Wilson is the digital strategist of Paige PR, a Houston-based public relations and marketing agency.

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