Should NTUC take the blame?

There was not a lot of love on Facebook yesterday as Singaporeans and neighbouring Malaysians took to the platform to criticise and condemn Amy Cheong, after she posted insensitive remarks on her personal Facebook page.

On 7 October, Cheong, former assistant director, membership department at NTUC, posted on her Facebook account a series of complaints about Malay weddings being conducted at void decks and made offensive comments to the Malay community.

She has since then been dismissed from her job and has repeatedly apologised on Twitter saying it was a "stupid comment" which she was "truly sorry" for.

This recent uproar underlines the struggles companies encounter with social media, where their reputation risk being tarnished with a few wrong choices of words.

Marketing spoke to industry experts to see what their reaction was to the NTUC episode. A common issue that was highlighted was the need for companies to hold social media training for its employees.

Keith Timimi, chairman of VML Qais, said smart companies will spell out a clear social media policy and how the organisation wants to communicate. Most importantly, companies will need to train their teams on these new rules of engagement.

"This is a new world we are living in, with new skills to learn," Timimi said.

Andy Oliver, senior vice president (APAC), Lewis PR, supported Timimi's comments adding it is "critical" for organisations to put social media policies in place and clearly communicate them to the staff.

"Social media training for all employees is an investment that companies need to make at an early stage," he said.

Oliver stated that while the incident showed that NTUC takes integration seriously and will not tolerate derogatory remarks by its staff, it still opened up a can of worms.

"It raises questions on the social media training imparted by NTUC to its employees. Does NTUC provide guidance or training? Is there a policy in place regarding the use of digital and social platforms?," Oliver asked.

These questions are not unique to NTUC, but to all organisations where employees have access to the internet and social networks.

Both Timimi and Oliver agree that on social media platforms, the line between personal employee pages and the official company run pages have become blurred.

"Even though we all often post disclaimers of views being owned by us on our personal pages, our conversations on these platforms reflect on the companies we work with," Oliver said.

"If you post something on Facebook, or if you have something flashing up on cabbie screens, or if you allow things to happen at company D&Ds, you need to imagine your actions being discussed by millions of netizens and ultimately read out by a news presenter," Timimi added.

Grassroots leader Lionel de Souza, the secretary of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle in Hougang, filed a police report yesterday against Cheong. He told local media that Cheong must have known what she wrote was racist, especially since Singapore is a multi-racial society.

NTUC could not be reached the time of writing.