“We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!!” Just one of the tweets to HMV’s 63,000 followers from an HMV employee, angry at the redundancies being carried out last year in the company.  Seven further messages were posted before the company regained control and deleted the tweets.

Last year, we had some photos from employees in Taco Bell and Burger King that went viral and had a major impact on the reputation of both companies. There are lots more examples like these.

Social media can have many beneficial consequences for a company, especially in terms of product promotion, branding, customer support, web site visibility etc. Many companies encourage employees, especially in sales and marketing, to join networks like LinkedIn so that they can extend their network and identify leads for the company.

However, as we have seen above, along with the benefits come a number of risks, through the possibility of employees using social media in a manner that compromises the profile and reputation of a company. This is where a social media policy comes in.

What is a Social Media Policy ?

It explains what employees should and should not do when using social media tools in the course of their employment. It provides guidelines of acceptable behaviour and defines the standards and behaviour that an organisation expects from its employees when using social media.

Why have one?

Inappropriate, unauthorised and insensitive online commentary from employees can spread very quickly on social media and can have a negative impact on a company’s image, leaving it potentially exposed to litigation. A well crafted and thorough social media policy can help to minimise these risks. 

What are the risks that a Social Media Policy can address?

  • Loss of productivity – too much focus on social life, gossip etc.
  • Loss of, or damage to, the company’s reputation
    • Unhappy employees making accusations against the company on social networks, forums.​
  • Disclosure of company confidential material
    • Sensitive, confidential material can be disclosed, accidently or deliberately​
  • Exposure to harassment/discrimination claims
    • Employees post offensive material during work: leads to harassment claim​
  • Loss of business contact
  • Extensive business contact lists (on LinkedIn) can be compromised when employees leaves, maybe goes to competitor. Who owns the contact list?

In terms of the ownership of LinkedIn contact lists, the findings in a UK case, Hays Specialist Recruitment (Holdings) Ltd & Another –v- Ions & Another ([2008] All ER 216), suggest that, regardless of the LinkedIn account being owned by an employee, any contact details gathered and stored in the account during the course of employment will be the property of the employer and must be deleted or returned to the employer if the employee leaves the company.

In the next blog we will look at the relevant factors to consider when developing a Social Media Policy.

For training and advice on Social Media Marketing, contact Noel @ noel.mcgrath@smeconnect.ie.  Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mcgrathnoel