3 Takeaways for your Business from the Sonny Truyen Episode

On 10 July 2016, Sonny Truyen, a then-employee of Singapore property portal 99.co, posted offensive and derogatory remarks about Singapore on his personal Facebook account. The comments were with regard to Sonny’s frustration at the unavailability of a new mobile game, ‘Pokemon Go’, which was yet to be released Singapore.

When another Facebook user commented on what Sonny had posted, attempting to clarify Sonny’s offensive remarks about Singapore, Sonny insulted the user with similar derogatory remarks.

About 24 hours later, The Straits Times reported that Sonny Truyen was fired by 99.co CEO Darius Cheung, once the incident had been brought to light to company management. An apology letter addressing the incident on 99.co’s blog website promptly followed.

This is not the first time a Singapore-based employee has posted disparaging or derogatory remarks about Singapore on a social media account. In 2014, former wealth fund manager Anton Casey was also fired for making remarks on the “stench of public transportation” and “poor people”, on his Facebook, in Singapore.

The furore and reactions of online users to the incident have far-reaching implications on issues such as xenophobia and discrimination in Singapore. As a business owner, the actions of your employees on social media have the potential to ignite feelings of unrest and debates on such issues. Careful steps have to be taken to protect the integrity of your business as well as to manage the actions of your employees on social media.

Here are the 3 takeaways from the incident at 99.co that your business can learn from:


1. The smallest of incidents on social media can have the biggest consequences

All it took was one Facebook post and subsequent comments for Sonny Truyen to lose his job, receive severe threats and ruffle the feathers of many locals and even fellow expatriates living in Singapore. Some online users even took to 99.co’s Facebook page to threaten to boycott their company if Sonny was still their employee.

Even when 99.co CEO Darius Cheung published a formal apology on the company’s blog website and addressed what had happened, people were still talking about the issue and even questioned his judgement to terminate Sonny’s employment.

All these subsequent reactions only serve to highlight the precarious balance of societal harmony in Singapore, which can be upset with the mere push of the ‘Publish’ button on Facebook.

It is only when business owners can fully appreciate the magnitude of actions on social media that they will begin to develop comprehensive social media policies for their company. Hence, it is important that you should never underestimate the potential implications of your employees’ actions on social media, no matter how small they are.


2. Every company needs a comprehensive social media policy

Sonny Truyen’s case and even that of Anton Casey’s also serve as reminders that you need to have comprehensive social media policies in place for your business. These include clear guidelines and regulations on what your company encourages and what it will not tolerate on social media. A social media policy for your company will allow employees to be aware of such regulations. Following which, it is down to you to adequately enforce your social media policy and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Of course, a company will never be able to have absolute control over their employees and certain acts of foolishness on impulse are not always preventable. Your employee can be fully aware of what the social media guidelines in his company are and decide to violate them anyway.

However, it is still necessary to have a social media policy in place to breed a cohesive culture in the company. One where everyone is aware of such guidelines, adheres to them and possibly stop one another from violating them. If Sonny’s colleague had seen his post, and with the possible implications on the company in mind, advised him to delete the post immediately, it would probably could have kept the resulting damage to a minimum.

Social media policies are put in place for the long term. When implemented with strong company support, they have the potential to be a preventive measure against damaging incidents such as Sonny’s.

They help to bring everyone in the company on the same page and foster a culture of responsible social media usage. The extent of this depends on the company’s willingness to propagate and enforce its social media policy in the company. Over time, employee mistakes such as that of Sonny’s and Anton’s can be greatly reduced.


3. Education of employees as a potential long-term solution

Since having guidelines in the form of social media policies is not seen as a complete solution, what then for companies? The final piece of the puzzle is the education of a company’s employees on social media behaviour.

As a business owner, it has to be made clear to your employees that they are ambassadors of the company on social media. Empower employees to propagate company values, mission and culture on social media through their actions in their everyday lives.

You will have to look ahead and adopt a more educational stance upon the implementation of your social media policy. Over time, not only will employees be aware of what they should not do on social media, they will be able to practise what they should be doing

Even though Sonny Truyen had only joined 99.co for a week prior to the post he made on Facebook, would he still have done so knowing that he was a company ambassador on Facebook from his first day of work? The answer may not be certain, but education of employees will go a long way in ensuring that such incidents can be prevented in the long run.


Moving Forward

Sonny Truyen’s Facebook post goes beyond online debates and discussions on social media. It is a stern reminder that we should not take societal harmony for granted. Any incident on social media, no matter how small, has the potential to upset the balance of harmony in Singapore.

As a business owner, you can do your part by taking the necessary steps to ensure your employees are responsible for their actions on social media. A comprehensive social media policy, coupled with strong company culture and support, will allow you to utilize social media for the betterment of your company.