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Going viral as an employer – for all the wrong reasons

Explore the real implications of your company going viral. Understand why fostering a stable, legally compliant business may prove to be more beneficial than chasing fleeting – and potentially catastrophic – internet fame.

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

going viral as employer

I’ve been working in HR for more than 20 years, but I’ve also worked in media for a long time, which makes me uniquely positioned to help you go viral as an employer! Of course, nothing can guarantee virality, but there are many things you can do to help get our company trending on Twitter.

Here are some things I’ve seen that can help you if you want your company to be the talk of the town.

Related: There are ways to communicate bad or shady news to your teams so they don’t result in PR disasters – the Kate Photoshop debacle is a perfect lesson for employers. Check it out!

1. Praise high gas prices

An Applebee’s executive emailed colleagues praising high gas prices. He reasoned that with gas being so high, people would need to work more hours. With more people desperate for work, Applebee’s could pay their employees less. A profitable situation for sure!

This helpful tip for saving money made Applebee’s hit the headlines in Inc, CBS News, Fortune, Fox Business, and many other news outlets. Can you imagine how much work a public relations department would have taken to get average news into the headlines? A golden opportunity, for sure!

2. Take WFH to the next level

Working from home is exactly what employees want. As such, companies that allow people to work from home can easily attract applicants and keep current employees engaged (even if new figures show that remote work has made people less productive).

Many people argue that anything that can be done in an office can be done remotely, and these companies went viral as an employer, showcasing just how they genuinely mean anything–like firing people.

Vishal Garg, the CEO of online mortgage lender, fired more than 900 people via Zoom. Everyone heard about that.

McDonald’s generally required everyone to work in the office, but when they had layoffs planned, they sent everyone home so that they could fire people remotely. Talk about embracing new technology and new ideas! Everyone talked about McDonald’s for days, not just because their chicken McNuggets are like crack to toddlers.

And then there’s Elon Musk, who goes viral just by breathing (it helps when you own Twitter), who announced the end of remote work for Twitter employees but didn’t make people come into the office to lose their jobs.

If you can fire people remotely, you already have a leg up on your competitors when it comes to virality.

3. Bring in a bit of (fake) religion

When your employees want to go to confession but don’t have time, you could bring in a priest. That’s what Taqueria Garibaldi in northern California did. Except he wasn’t a real priest, and he reported all the “confessions” to the boss, who used them to discipline the staff.

The Department of Labor uncovered this during an investigation into wage and hour problems, and the optics of it made the case go viral. Any time you want to get more press for your business, consider thinking outside the box and faking religion.

4. Go on a date (with your mistress)

China National Petroleum went viral this week when one of its executives got caught on video on a date with his mistress. If your junior accountant has an affair, the only people who care are the HR department and the injured spouse. But, if your leadership does, it can make people talk about your company.

Do you really want to go viral?

While sometimes good things cause companies to go viral, it’s far more likely that your screw-up will be what trends on Twitter.

Like it or not, people don’t sit around talking about this small business that gives paid maternity leave.

If you focus on getting your company in the limelight, you may not like it too much. Take Gravity Payments, which went viral a few years ago when CEO Dan Price made the minimum salary at his company $70,000 – himself included. While that made great headlines and positive discussion, it also made people pay a lot of attention to a relatively small company.

When it turned out that Price was not a fine and upstanding gentleman, he went viral again.

The best thing you can do for your employees is to have a stable, legally compliant business. If you want something to go viral, you want it to be a product – a well-tested product.

You’ll likely get attention when you ignore the Americans with Disabilities Act or fire pregnant employees. Giving employees reasonable accommodations and following the law (including the newly activated Pregnant Workers Fairness Act) will keep you out of trouble and out of the spotlight. But honestly, that’s what you want. You want a rock-solid business with good employees, and that’s how you get that.

Forget going viral. It’s not the best solution for your recruitment marketing needs.

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