In today’s world, social media can be a powerful marketing tool. A company’s aggressive, creative, and intelligent use of platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram can be instrumental in building a brand and reaching potential customers.
At the same time, however, a social media presence can backfire if not properly managed and executed.
A Real-Life Example of Social Media Use Gone Wrong
For example, in 2005, the Automobile Club of Southern California was forced to fire 27 of its employees as a result of one of the Club’s employees making inappropriate online comments. While off duty, the employee posted derogatory comments about another employee’s weight and sexual orientation. The Club found out about the post and conducted an investigation into the matter. As a result of the investigation, the Club uncovered comments made by other employees that were derogatory towards the company, as well as, an employee plot to damage the company.
Ultimately, the actions of one of the Club’s employees exposed the company to substantial potential liability, including claims relating to employee harassment, discrimination, and a hostile work environment. Additionally, the inappropriate post risked causing significant damage to the company’s image.
A Social Media Policy – Why Do You Need It?
Whether large or small, any business that has employees should develop a clear, legally enforceable Social Media Policy. Such a policy will serve as a guide to employees and should encourage creative and enthusiastic participation within the bounds of what the Policy allows. Whether or not the company intends on utilizing social media to market its products or services, it is important that its employees understand the guidelines for what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior online. This is true even if a particular employee is not charged with representing the company online as part of his or her official job duties. Even off-duty employees can potentially get a company in trouble by posting inappropriate material on the internet.
Basic Components of a Holistic Social Media Policy
Obviously, no business wants exposure to legal liability and negative publicity. A complete and thorough Policy should help to reduce the possibility of such an event occurring. Although no policy is perfect, having one in place can be vital to supporting a company’s case in litigation. With that in mind, below are several provisions that any well-drafted Social Media Policy should contain.
POLICY STATEMENT: The Policy should state the reason for which the Social Media Policy has been developed and implemented.
CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION: The Policy should include the company’s guidelines relating to disclosure of confidential information. In addition to prohibitions against posting derogatory information about others online, employees should understand that trade secrets and other proprietary information should not be posted online.
CONSEQUENCES: The Policy should clearly state that there will penalties imposed for violations of the Policy. These consequences should be legally enforceable and compliant with current labor and employment laws.
REPORTING: The Policy should clearly define the proper method of reporting violations. This should include the means of reporting (in writing, via email, via pre-prepared form, etc.) and to whom the violation should be reported.
EDUCATION: The Policy should describe opportunities to educate employees on the proper use (both on and off duty) of social media.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: All employees should be required to read and acknowledge receipt of the Policy. Moreover, employees should be encouraged to seek guidance for any portions of the Policy that may be unclear to them.
The above provisions only represent a few of the many that should be included in any thorough Social Media Policy. A comprehensive Policy should be tailored to meet the needs of each particular business. Depending on how visible and aggressive a company wants its social media presence to be, there will likely be additional, more specific guidelines that will need to be included in the policy. For example, it may be wise to encourage employees to post positive, complimentary material relating to a company’s products or services or events in which the company may be participating. Alternatively, depending on the comfort level of a business, it may restrict any such posts except for certain specified employees that have been selected and trained to post on social media on the company’s behalf.
Ideally, a company’s Social Media Policy will strike a balance between protecting the company from exposure to liability and unwanted publicity on the one hand, and promoting desired, positive, and active employee involvement in the company’s online marketing strategy on the other.
Ultimately, your company’s Social Media Policy should be a tool that drives your employees to positively represent your business online. Additionally, simply going through the process of preparing such a Policy allows a company’s management to review, rethink, and sometimes overhaul the company’s online marketing strategy. Ultimately, a thorough and well thought out Social Media Policy should serve both as a shield against liability and unwanted publicity, as well as, a tool for developing a creative, credible, and aggressive social medial presence.
For any help on legal matters related to business implications of social media use, send emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org