Social Media Policy: Your Company’s Defense Against a Social Crisis

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By Annie C. Bai, Esq.
| Employment Technology & Privacy

Social media is a modern-day behemoth, which can bring real value yet real risk to your company.  Because of its tremendous reach and lasting imprint, a business must be proactive in addressing social media risks on two fronts: 1) managing and protecting its corporate social media accounts; and 2) managing the impact and legal liability of employee personal social media use, both on and off the job.

It is crucial to set out principles and guidelines to safeguard your social media assets in both of these regards.  While the social media laws are still developing and inconsistent from state to state, a straightforward document called a Social Media Policy (SMP) will go a long way towards helping you protect your company’s social media worth.

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How a Social Media Policy Protects Your Business

A social media policy sets forth guidelines and rules for social media use and provides mitigation procedures for situations in which the rules are broken (and they will be, sooner or later, as human nature and Murphy’s Rule dictate). It is not just a marketing document or a general description of how things are done; rather, from the legal perspective, a SMP has two important functions – one is proactive and the other is defensive.

A sound social media policy is proactive on these matters:

  • Guidelines for content creation, especially sensitive/confidential content
  • Accountability for content
  • Designated roles and a chain of command
  • Password sharing and other security procedures
  • Monitoring feeds, posts, and comments
  • Interfacing with the public
  • Protecting the privacy of individuals

A social media policy provides defensive protection by:

  • Establishing that your company is not responsible for “rogue social media statements” by employees or others
  • Providing an action plan for cleaning up the inevitable messes

Now let’s look at some of the major mess-makers, which can cause a real social media headache if you are not prepared.  

Common Causes of Social Media Crises

Mismanagement of Your Business’s Social Media Accounts

Today, managing a company’s Facebook or LinkedIn page, Twitter account, or Instagram feed can be a full-time job, but do not forget that the employee needs managing as well. Without a social media policy, an employee may have unfettered or unmanaged access to your social media accounts, exposing your business’s image to a range of undesirable misuses or mistakes, whether intentional or unintentional. This includes everyone from executives to low-level employees, such as interns.

Interns, really?  Yes in fact, HMV, the major British entertainment retailer, lost control of its Twitter account in 2013 when the sole employee responsible for the company’s account found that she and 60 others were about to be fired. She had opened the account as an intern and managers did not have any of the passwords. When she live-tweeted the agonizing experience from the company’s social media account to HMV’s 61,5000 followers, it and induced a maelstrom of negative attention. The employee had opened their social media accounts as an intern and managers did not have any of the passwords.

You may think that a quick fix would be to hire a professional social media company to handle your accounts. Well …  know that some of the more embarrassing social media disasters stem from outsourced social media management. Outside agencies “penned” both the racist Home Depot gorilla tweet and the Chrysler F-Bomb incident. Chrysler’s social media management not only cursed to its over 7,000 Twitter followers, but also insulted residents of Detroit, home of its headquarters.

Rules for your social media managers, whether in-house or outsourced, can prevent embarrassing disasters or in the case of a rogue posting, can help your company distance itself from an individual’s misstep.

Failing to Remove Ex-Employees’ Social Media Access

When employee termination or voluntary departure looms on the horizon, serious social media issues may arise. Departing employees have been known to spitefully refuse to release account passwords. Some have repurposed LinkedIn groups and contacts in order to start a rival business. Courts are beginning to rule on cases concerning the ownership of social media contacts, but they make their decisions by looking to user policies of the social media platforms and corporate employee policies.  It is crucial to clearly assert in your SMP that your company owns its accounts. This is especially true for branded employee accounts that provide employees an opportunity to share and create social media content on behalf of the company.

Your Employees’ Personal Social Media Accounts  

For many, the urge to engage in personal social media use during the workday is irresistible, so your corporate principles should be clear concerning the amount of time employees engage in “socializing.”  Moreover, after-hours posting can do just as much damage as a workday rogue post because the public and the media, who convert rogue posting into viral messes, rarely consider the timing of a post. So you see, workday and off-duty social media activity indiscriminately unleash the same problems, which can be addressed through employee training, guidelines, and incentives. 

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Why Every Company Needs A Social Media Policy:

1) The Rogue Employee

There are a plethora of examples where the personal Facebook commentary, Instagram photos or YouTube videos of employees have caused corporate headaches. The fast food service industry is rife with examples of disgusting “shares” that reflect poorly upon an employer: a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells, a KFC employee licking a tub of mashed potatoes, a Burger King employee relaxing on top of a pile of buns, and Domino’s Pizza employees performing “unsanitary acts” in the kitchen. A prudent employer will carefully engage in a constructive dialogue with its employees about best practices for their personal social media behavior, exhort and incentivize good social media behavior, and direct employees to the company’s SMP.

2) The New Water Cooler

Where employees used to congregate face-to-face to discuss workplace issues, they now take to the Internet for these conversations. Sometimes, they speak out as individuals, but sometimes they interact with each other. A good SMP will encourage employees to take care with such public discussions, but does not inhibit any protected conversations about workplace conditions. Please note that this does not only apply unionized employees. The National Labor Relations Board has asserted its authority over all kinds of venting, ranting and posting about workplace conditions, regardless of union affiliation. 

3) The Unrelated (Or So You Thought) Activities

The unavoidable fact is that people overwhelmingly love to share on social media.  There are nearly two billion users of social media worldwide and 74% of adults who are online use social media.  Among the multitude of users are most, if not all, of your employees.
 
These days, it seems that nothing can be contained as purely personal. Everything we do on social media can be viewed, consumed and repeated by the public.  With this kind of unbridled activity floating around the Internet, business leaders must tread carefully into the social media waters--with eyes open and a firm plan.  Although social media is a marketing tool, you must do more than enact marketing plans: your policies must encompass legal protections, human resource relationships, and more. Starting with an organized, written policy is a foundational step towards maximizing the benefits of corporate social media engagement.

 

This post is part of Priori’s blog series “From Our Attorneys,” where we feature lawyers in our network discussing important issues small businesses face. In today’s post, transactional attorney Annie Bai explains the importance of protecting your corporate assets with a social media policy and common culprits to watch out for.

Priori makes it easy for small businesses and startups to find, hire, and work with  trusted, vetted attorneys at below-market, and often flat fee rates. Priori Legal makes the process of working with legal counsel simple, trasparent, and efficient. 

Need an attorney, or would like to set up a company social media policy? Submit a lawyer request through the link below and set up your half-hour free legal consulation with an attorney. If you would like to work with Annie Bai specifically, please include her name in your lawyer request.

 

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Photo Credits:

JD Hancock via Compfight cc 

ecstaticist via Compfight cc

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