We were pleased to join the Florida Trucking Association for their spring conference in April to talk with their members about the nature of social media, and why it poses a particular risk for the trucking industry.
There are some best practices for using social media no matter what industry you are in, but after decades of working with transportation and logistics companies throughout Florida, we know it is especially important for truckers and their companies to understand that social media use must be an important element of their risk management planning.
After all, social media has broken down the barriers between people’s personal and professional lives, so what truck drivers and other employees post can definitely affect your company. But the trucking industry has a few characteristics that make it particularly vulnerable to reputational and legal harm via social media.
A poll released at the American Trucking Association’s Management Conference and Exhibition in October showed that voters consistently report a favorable impression of the trucking industry, and in 2020, their support was even further strengthened by the contributions truckers made to keeping our economy moving during the pandemic. However, trucking has obvious inherent risks which threaten that surplus of goodwill. Any accident can be the subject of litigation, and poor use of social media on the part of truck drivers can leave their employers vulnerable in court, potentially exposing them to expensive settlements and judgements.
Attorneys know this, and the opposing counsel in a lawsuit would like nothing more than to find some unsavory posts to use as evidence in the court of public opinion – which is of course the potential jury pool. It makes their settlement demands seem more reasonable if the defendant is unpopular. You can expect that in any litigation the other side will be combing through your driver’s social media activity as part of discovery. What they find can cause massive reputational harm to both an individual driver and the company as a whole.
Truck drivers, like many other professions, are also subject to a type of cognitive bias called the “halo effect”: People are evaluated based on the perception of one characteristic instead of their whole performance. If a driver makes a negative impression about something unrelated to their driving ability, their reputation for safe driving may be harmed as well.
With this in mind, trucking companies should counsel their drivers to be cautious with what they post online.
- Use your account’s privacy options and assume that everything you post or share will become public. Check your account options to make sure that only your friends can see your posts, and that you must approve any pictures you are tagged in before they are posted on your wall. Even if you change your account settings in these ways, there’s nothing to prevent a friend from sharing your post with their network or taking a screenshot of it.
- Stay positive. No one has ever gotten attacked for posting a picture of themselves with a new grandchild, or going out fishing, or with their family at Disney World. Posting a ‘get well soon’ or ‘happy birthday’ on someone else’s wall is fine. When in doubt, remember the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And specifically for trucking companies, this cannot be emphasized enough: Drivers should not post photos of accidents on their social media platforms.
- Stop commenting. Public comments sections are the worst, most toxic environment online, so just don’t take part. In the best-case scenario, no one sees your comment. In the worst case, people may take notice or misinterpret it, and share it beyond your control. Much like putting toothpaste back in the tube, there’s no rolling back social media content after it has been shared beyond your profile.
You might decide to codify a social media policy for your company, which is wise: it ensures everyone is equally aware of best practices and the company’s expectations regarding social media use as an employee, and insulates the company somewhat if a driver disregards those policies.
Social media can be a powerful tool to promote your company, but it can also be damaging to your reputation if your employees use it unwisely. Contact Tucker/Hall for assistance with drafting employee social media policies or training your teammates on effective use of different platforms for your company.