Do you have a social media policy?Posted on

What are the social media risks to employers?

Reputation

The most obvious risk is a reputational one. Each employee is a representative of the company and many employees now have a very visible online platform (whether they realise this or not).

When a 21 year old former stockbroker tweeted: ‘Think I just hit a cyclist. But I’m late for work so had to drive off lol’, it is highly unlikely he had any concept of the reputational damage this could cause. Unsurprisingly, his Tweet received a great deal of backlash from users as well as Re-Tweets which led to it being picked up in the national press and ultimately lost the employee his job. A company spokesperson was forced to issue a statement in response: “We find these online comments totally unacceptable. Upon becoming aware of this issue we have terminated this person’s employment with immediate effect.”

So, all in all, unwelcome press for the company and a career-limiting move by the employee.

Sometimes events like these are out of a company’s control – however there are steps that can be taken to try and minimise this sort of crisis occurring. The most effective way for a company to take control is to implement and enforce a very clear social media policy that highlights to employees exactly what standards are expected on social media when they are identifiable as an employee of the company. These guidelines should also be rolled out by way of training sessions to ensure employees are fully engaged and understand the necessity and aims of the policy as opposed to issuing a bog standard policy that never gets read. It is one thing to have a social media policy but getting employees to understand it and understand why it protects them and the business is the key.

Company Information and Intellectual Property

Another common pitfall concerns business contacts on social media and who owns them. Of course, it is not just LinkedIn where this issue can arise but, given that the ultimate purpose of this site is to professionally network, this is often where this issue will manifest itself.

The Courts, in a race to catch up with these online scenarios, have seen a number of cases in which the same question arises: Do the LinkedIn contacts that an employee creates during their employment amount to confidential information owned by an employer?

Of course, most people would recognise that taking an employer’s customer list and using this to set up a rival competing company would amount to a misuse of an employer’s confidential information by an employee. However, in contrast, on sites such as LinkedIn the contacts are stored on an employee’s personal account to which only the employee has password protected access (and he/she is likely to be using a personal email address to login).

The law states that general contact details available from the public domain cannot constitute confidential information, but private contact information gained during employment is a different matter. So, as a general rule, if the employee compiled their contacts from uploaded email addresses at work, or the company provided the employee with business contacts in some other way, then a claim for ownership may work in the company’s favour. Whether or not suing a former employee for his LinkedIn contacts is a good idea reputationally is another matter.

What is perhaps more interesting is the use of more “social” media such as Twitter and Instagram in creative industries. What value does a Twitter account with the words “BBC” in it have (such as @bbcnickrobinson)? And who owns the account?

The situation is by no means clear cut and it therefore pays for employers to have a social media policy which clearly sets out the use of sites professionally and who owns what.

Employers are often understandably reluctant to add yet another policy to the seemingly never-ending stream of paperwork that is issued to employees. However, in an environment that is now undeniably dominated by online activity, it is arguably the most important policy an employer will issue.

 

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