Second semester of senior year can be a tough time for any college student, as graduation looms and job applications, resumes and attending the USC Career Fair become the new norm. Yet USC graduates looking for a job might have one less thing to worry about. Because of the overwhelming influence of social media applications, companies are thinking twice about firing their employees — at least in ways that lead to viral videos and media outrage. Companies, such as HMV and Applebee’s, have recently faced extreme criticism from the public after fired employees took to social media to recover from the experience.
Websites, such as Yelp or Glassdoor, are even giving consumers a public platform to vent against immoral companies, and the results are tremendous. Corporate higher-ups are becoming more and more careful about the way they treat their employees, and as technology progresses, it’s clear that they should be.
Fortunately for college students, the gap in technological proficiency that hinders companies doesn’t generally exist for students in this day and age. For modern students, using social media is a part of everyday life and, after a point, second nature.
As a result, students have a powerful tool at their disposal that didn’t exist before: social media strategy. Personal branding through social media is a skill that students can utilize and use strategically in the corporate world. And if the recent firing controversies are any indication, they definitely should.
The prevalance of social media in today’s society has forced companies to rethink their normal business practices. Chelsea Welch, a former Applebee’s waitress, was fired from her position for uploading a picture of a customer’s receipt onto the website Reddit. On the receipt, the customer wrote, “I give God 10 percent. Why should you get 18?” Welch posted the picture on the popular image-sharing website as a way to vent her frustration, but when the angry customer contacted Applebee’s to share the story, Welch lost her job.
This decision was faced with almost unanimous public criticism. Welch’s posting eventually went viral, as angry online commenters wrote letters, planned sit-ins and vowed to never eat at Applebee’s again. Applebee’s management was criticized for not handling the situation well, and the Harvard Business Review described the whole event as a “PR nightmare.”
Yet the meaning behind the debacle might have favorable implications for new employees and even students. Companies and organizations who previously had free reign to treat their employees without any regard with the consequences now face a degree of transparency that forces them to employ honest business practices.
Businesses would be wise to learn from Applebee’s mistakes. When firing Welch, upper-level managers made a grave error in judgment: They discounted the value and power of social media platforms. With technology comes transparency, and every individual has an outlet to voice their opinions and tell their stories. Companies are now forced to maintain positive Yelp and Glassdoor profiles or face a decrease in customer traffic.
“This year, the Internet, a mass medium for barely a decade, ushered in fundamental changes in the way people access information, share ideas and connect to each other,” said journalist Kristi Heim in The Seattle Times. “with Web logs, the Internet became a global slate for anyone to express an opinion, debate issues and connect with like-minded people.”
Unfortunately for corporations, the change has meant that every move a company makes is subject to criticism at even an international level. One misstep could cause a company to lose a significant amount of business, and it is a risk that no company should take.
The only solution for businesses is to get social media savvy as quickly as possible and consider many different perspectives of a situation before jumping to action. As business analyst Lise Buyer stated in an article, “The fact is that the lines of communication from the executive suite to the front lines are stronger and better than ever before. Savvy chief honchos understand and embrace that new reality. Individual employees can actually try to make a real difference. The individual is louder than it has ever been since the Industrial Revolution.”
USC students graduating in the spring could benefit from knowing that they have a powerful tool at their disposal as they enter the workforce upon graduation. The traditional power structure of companies is shifting to include even the lowest in the corporate totem pole. At the same time, effortlessness of social media is a double-edged sword, and it’s important to remember that students can fall prey to the same easy access of information that empowers them.
Discretion and the intelligent use of social media tools are becoming the new corporate power tools. As graduation day nears, students should consider the image of themselves that they project to the public on a daily basis. If Applebee’s story is any indication, social media savvy is an invaluable tool that even the best PR department can’t replace.
Payal Mukerji is a junior majoring in business administration.