In the digital era, many salon owners are investing a considerable deal of time, money, and thought into cultivating a brand with messaging and imagery that speaks to their desired client in a way that resonates—designing something the client can connect with. These plans are called a marketing “strategy” because they are carefully and deliberately designed and must be executed to certain specifications in order for them to be effective and to ensure the integrity of the brand.
I rarely speak on issues of social media or marketing at all, preferring to stay in my lane and speak on subjects I’m actually qualified to speak about (like finance, management, organization, business strategy, legal compliance, and professionalism). However, this article has nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of social media management. Instead, we’ll be talking about whether your employed professionals should be permitted to represent your brand online and why that might not be a wise decision.
If you were to look up my salon (Unvarnished Hand & Foot Co.) online, you’d find that we don’t have much of a social presence at all. We’ve reserved our pages, made a handful of posts, and have left those accounts to collect dust. If you look into my salon online or learn about it while reading my second book, you’ll find that we don’t come close to resembling a “typical” salon for a number of reasons. If you’re not familiar with what sets us apart, here’s a brief overview:
- Unvarnished provides sanitary natural nail care to clients who require routine foot care as a medical necessity and are typically ineligible for service at standard salons for various reasons. The majority of our clients are age 55+ and have medical complications like diabetes, circulatory disorders, and compromised immune systems. These complications require us to follow certain sanitation and treatment protocols and to work closely with local physicians to ensure the continued welfare of our mutual clients.
- The nature of our work tends not to be very visually appealing, so visual advertising mediums (like Instagram) do not serve us well.
- A good deal of our customers are self-conscious about their hands and feet, as many have arthritis, venous disorders, missing toenails and/or digits, bruising/scarring, and other issues. Not only would their hands and feet not photograph well, the majority of our customers would never consent to having those images posted on social media (and honestly, I don’t think I could maintain my composure if someone were to make rude comments in response to those images).
- Because we do cater to a much older clientele, we have to be very mindful of our behavior and ensuring that nothing relating to our company rises to the level of being considered controversial, offensive, or otherwise damaging to our reputation in our communities.
Currently, our marketing strategy revolves entirely around what works for our business—print media. For us, controlling social media isn’t really about curating content but about ensuring that any messages about the salon or relating to it are in line with what we want communicated to current and potential clients.
In this article, we’re not going to talk about the possibility of our employees making contact with customers outside of the salon for the purposes of possibly violating non-solicitation agreements, nor are we going to argue over intellectual property rights. Instead, we’ll be talking about why giving someone who isn’t invested in the salon’s success to the degree you are, isn’t compensated or qualified to be doing marketing work, and isn’t informed of or involved in the execution of your marketing strategy the ability to represent or speak on behalf of the brand/company in any capacity could cause consequences that go way far beyond mere NSA violations.
On this subject, I am certainly (and unfortunately) qualified to speak.
During our first year in business, one of our employees who felt it necessary to “promote the salon” did a bunch of damage to our reputation online. With a single before/after post (complete with snarky commentary about the necessity of heel care), this employee betrayed the trust of one of our customers, presented a message that didn’t at all align with our company’s values or attitudes, and upset one of the referring podiatrists who entrusts us with their patients. To add insult to injury, this employee gave one of our competitors the ability to jump right up on a high horse and proclaim in the comments that her business “would never exploit customers in such a way.” The whole ordeal compromised our integrity—a significant issue for a facility like ours.
That’s not a mistake any salon owner should make twice.
While the possibility for a similar PR disaster might be enough to dissuade savvy salon owners from allowing or requiring employees to participate in social media promotion work, as salon owners, our reasoning for controlling social media messaging should have very little to do with keeping the professional from taking clients from the business and everything to do with maintaining brand integrity, enforcing a work/life balance for our employees, and ensuring our customers understand there’s a time, a place, and a protocol for handling salon matters.
Reason 1: Our employees deserve a healthy work/life balance.
In our capacities as managers and leaders, we should see ourselves as concierges to our employees.
I often say, “Our employees serve our clients. I serve our employees.”
Our role, as I’ve always seen it, is to make their jobs easier, giving them the training, education, and support they need so they can best serve the salon and our customers. In that capacity, I also consider it my job to ensure they are maintaining a work/life balance and never taking on my responsibilities. However, in my capacity as the Director of Operations for Unvarnished, my role is to defend my brand. For my objectives as a manager/concierge and company director to coexist, we must implement strict media guidelines and protocols.
Reason 2: Our employees deserve freedom of expression and have a right to privacy.
When clients friend us online, boundaries are often crossed and salon owners lose control over the content associated with your business being delivered through those personal social media channels. While I have a thousand valid arguments against friending clients in any capacity, as a manager, I do not want clients disturbing my employees when they are off-the-clock.
Customers are not entitled to have access to our personal lives.
Our employees should not feel like they’re owned by us, our companies, or our clients. They should feel empowered to use their personal social media accounts as platforms for self-expression and debate without worrying about whether their opinions will jeopardize their job and/or negatively impact their professional reputation and their relationships with their clients. As business owners, we should be the client’s point of contact—not just to control the messaging, but to ensure clients respect our employees’ personal space.
Reason 3: Our employees deserve to be employees.
We need to stop allowing our employees (key word there: employees) to feel pressured to behave as entrepreneurs. This is an extremely damaging narrative that has been shown to have serious negative consequences for Millennials in particular (or, as we’re now being referred to, “The Side-Hustle Generation”).
“We are a generation of young women who were told we could do anything and instead heard that we had to be everything.”
-Courtney E. Martin
Entrepreneurship isn’t what employees sign up for. It’s not what they’re trained or compensated for. It simply isn’t fair to our employees for us to burden them with the responsibilities of business ownership when we’re the ones who largely recognize the gain from their efforts. (Besides, if they wanted to be self-employed, they could go rent, right?)
Too often, professionals in our industry are taken away from the craft they love and are force-fed the philosophy that, to remain competitive, they must be constantly hustling, self-promoting, “branding” themselves, and taking on a litany of outside tasks that lead to burnout.
If we’re doing our jobs as managers and truly taking care of our employees, we’d be allowing them the freedom from entrepreneurship that gainful employment provides.
While these professionals may have passion, ambition, and the desire to share their craft with the world, that should be something they choose to do. It’s in our mutual interests to ensure that when those images are posted in public spaces, they are posted in accordance with standards and policies we’ve established.
My unique salon situation aside, the consulting clients of mine who do rely heavily upon social media and have seen the most success from using social platforms to market their salons have really strict posting guidelines in place and/or require their marketing manager to approve all posts. They do this because their IGs are highly curated—not just for overall quality but for uniformity with the brand “look.” Their posts are designed to evoke certain emotions and promote a particular lifestyle, and that’s just not compatible with employees posting random images of questionable quality. So while I lack direct experience with social media as a marketing tool, after consulting for so many of salon owners who do and seeing the results they’ve had (and seeing what a lack of those controls looks like by comparison), I don’t think I could ever get on board with a “let them post whatever they want” attitude, but I want to hear from you.
What do you think about allowing employees to promote your salon on social media? What have your experiences been? If you allow your employees to speak on behalf of your company online, how do you train them to do so competently and what policies do you have in place (if any)?