Increasingly, businesses are using social media to advertise their products and services. Many even ask their employees to promote the business through their own blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.
The benefits of this strategy are obvious – it is essentially free advertising for your business by having employees engage with clients on a personal level. Employees can be good ambassadors for your business. They give your business both personality and a human face. It also increases employee engagement in the advertisement and promotion of the business.
But using social media comes with risks
There are a number of risks associated with this practice that may expose your business to financial or reputational loss.
Time wasted on social media for non-work, non-productive activity. Social media can be a drain on an employee’s time and energy. If left unmanaged, it may end up being an unproductive and distracting expense.
Inappropriate use of social media for personal negative comments. If your employee accidentally, negligently or intentionally makes defamatory, derogatory or other damaging comments, this may lead to serious legal or reputational consequences for your business and lead to claims in defamation, anti-competitive behaviour or harassment.
Ownership of the social media account and customer details. Social media accounts often contain business information and client contacts. What are your options if an employee who has left your company continues to use their LinkedIn, Twitter and other personal social media accounts to communicate with your clients?
This is an increasing area of litigation, and legislators have yet to come up with a solution to deal with these issues. There had always been relatively clear that client lists belong to the employer when an employee leaves the company. However, with the advent of social media, there is no longer clear whether this remains the case, even where the client list is in fact a list of followers on Twitter or Facebook friends on the employee’s personal account.
Damaging comments about your company on social media. There is now a wave of disputes involving companies attempting to terminate employees for inappropriate comments about the company on social media. However, there has been no clear judicial or legislative guidance as yet on the risks of dismissal in these situations, some have been successful while others have not. Each case has been determined on a case-by-case basis.
What can you do to protect your business?
With the lack of any precedent either in Australia or overseas to indicate how the law may deal with these issues, how should businesses proceed to mitigate the risks associated with their employees’ activities on social media?
- Ensure your business has a social media policy. Otherwise it may be difficult to justify the use of social media at work/during work hours, even at excessive levels, as valid grounds for dismissal.
- Define the scope of ‘acceptable use’ in your social media policy. As the employer, you should specify that any social media use in the course of employment is for business purposes only.
- Clarify the ownership of social media accounts and make it clear that in the case where an employee leaves the business, the social media accounts they have used for the purposes of promoting your business should be given up.
- Ensure that all your employees are aware of your company’s social media policy through regular communication or training, and that the policy is in fact enforced within the company.
And keep up with the latest legal developments in this area, which – like social media – are moving fast!