Social media web sites such as Twitter and Facebook are no longer an emerging form of communication. They have matured into mainstream outlets for the expression of opinion. It is now standard practice for companies and other employers to incorporate a policy on social media into their practices and procedures.
The need for this has become apparent as companies realise there are potential consequences if an employee says something online with negative connotations. If that sort of activity is associated with the company it could have the effect of, at the very least, impacting adversely on its reputation or, in a worst case scenario, exposing it to the risk of either civil action for defamation or a prosecution for being complicit in allowing a menacing communication to be transmitted contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
It is common practice for employers to make it clear to employees that they reserve the right to monitor employee use of social media whether that is in the work place or at home. Further, companies will make it plain that their policies on anti-harassment, ethics and loyalty to the company extend to the use of social media both, again, inside and outside the work place.
When setting a social media policy it is all too easy to simply impose a set of restrictions on what members of staff are permitted to do online. However, it can be useful to incorporate the positive aspects of social media utilisation and emphasise what is permissible from the employer’s perspective.
It should be made clear to staff that they have to take responsibility for what they say. It is wrong to interpret freedom of speech as having the right to say anything they like without consequences.
Clear identification of the person posting on social media is desirable. Potential customers respond far more positively to authenticity. Social media offers real opportunities to add value to customers. A potential customer posts a query about a particular product on a forum; a short, informative response from a clearly identifiable employee is likely to pay dividends in relation to the reputation of the company and, of course, a potential sale.
Staff should be required to remember that their target audience may include current or former clients or customers as well as present or past employees of the business. They should be reminded not alienate any of these groups.
Comments that can be seen as demeaning or inflammatory should be refrained from. Staff perceived as being, for example, racist or bigoted can have a seriously detrimental impact on the reputation of the business.
The concept of ‘community’ can be important in formulating social media policy. Staff should be encouraged to see social media as an opportunity to be supportive of others. It is very helpful to achieving a company’s objectives when its customers or clients feel comfortable being connected with and receiving help.
It is not safe to assume that employees will understand the need to respect the legal rights of others and the obligation not to divulge confidential information. This should be spelled out in the social media policy for the avoidance of doubt.
Overall, a clear policy in relation to social media will guard against misuse rebounding on a company and generate real opportunities for advancing the employer in the virtual environment.
BIO: Jenny Jones is working for BCL Legal. She has a wealth of legal experience and is well positioned to provide up-to-date news and advice on digital and social media topics from her time spent working within the industry.