By Mark Murrah
There’s no denying it, social media is an integrated part of the way we do business today. For businesses of all sizes, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been proven to have a great return on investment, not only for marketing purposes but for a business’s connection with its current and future customer and clients. Ford, for example, began marketing its Fiesta model over a year in advance before entering the US market by using social media. The YouTube promotion alone generated 6.5 million views and approximately 50,000 non-Ford drivers requested information about the vehicle. When the vehicle finally went on sale, Ford sold more than 10,000 in the first week.
The Internet Doesn’t Forgive and It Never Forgets
Despite the obvious benefits of a strong social media presence, there are inherent risks. A mistake made on the internet is an especially detrimental one. You can’t ever really delete the mistake. The illusion of delete buttons and undo functions on the web has been debunked, particularly by Twitter.
In 2012, KitchenAid was caught in a Twitter scandal when one of their employees posted an offensive tweet about President Obama’s late grandmother. Instead of using their personal handle, they used their KitchenAid handle and in Twitter-speak, the employee sent this message:
“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.”
Although Kitchen Aid attempted damage control by deleting the post and apologizing, the post had already been retweeted and gone viral. This instance is cited as one of the worst social media mistakes in history. Your business should avoid ever being in such a position.
Three Things You Need to Create a Successful Social Media Policy
- Develop a stand-alone social media policy. You might think it is common sense but it’s not. Developing a stand-alone social media policy that defines appropriate employee use of social media is critical. This should include:
- The company’s expectations of any employee using social media.
- Anti-harassment policies should extend to social media. That means the response to traditional workplace harassment on the part of the company should be the same for social media harassment.
- Use plain language. Are employees allowed to use social media on company property? Yes or no?
- Property includes physical equipment as well as electronic information and communication systems.
- If it is on the internet, it is not private. If an employee uses company property and violates policy they can and will be disciplined according to company policy.
- Being an employee means loyalty. Even if they are using their personal account they can not post confidential company information or bad-mouth on social media platforms. This would be in violation of their loyalty agreement.
- Make it clear that violating their confidentiality agreement in any way, including social media, has serious consequences.
- Your employees are a direct representation of your business. The reality is that the people you hire and put your name on are a reflection of the kind of business you run, at least to your customers and /or clients. Promote a positive image by:
- Prohibiting defamation using social media.
- Inform employees they should respect customers, clients, business partners, etc. by avoiding offensive postings (i.e. ethnic slurs, sexist comments, obscenity, etc.)
- Include post-employment obligations not to denigrate the company or any affiliates.
- Again, social media harassment policy of fellow employees or any company affiliates should be consistent with any existing workplace harassment policies.
- Ensure you are not violating employee rights under the First Amendment, NLRA, or whistleblower laws.
- If you expect your employees to know it, you need to train them. People make mistakes; however, providing your employees with the appropriate training can greatly reduce the number and severity of these mistakes.
Mark Murrah is a Partner at the law firm of Murrah & Killough, PLLC (Houston’s Business Lawyers). The office is located at 3000 Weslayan, Suite 305 – Houston, Texas 77027. For a complimentary Social Media Checklist, an invaluable tool to help tackle and simplify the daunting task of developing an effective social media policy, contact Mark by phone at 281-501-1601 or by email at [email protected].