Minimizing social media risk

The brand building and sales potential that social media sites like Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook can provide to even the smallest enterprises naturally make them a very attractive addition to the marketing mix. But before you go off all guns blazing, opening your company, customer base, employees, products and services up to the world, make sure you are covered.

As the use of social media increases in work time and on workplace machines, employers and employees are facing increasing dangers and are falling foul of a rising number of legal precedents and need to protect themselves.

In recent months Virgin and British Airways staff have been sacked or suspended for activity on social media sites. And in a prominent High Court case, a former employee of UK recruitment firm Hays was ordered to hand over some Linkedin contacts nurtured during his time the company using company assets.

A survey recently conducted by solicitors Pannone reported in the Manchester Evening News last week suggested that 79% of companies did not have a social media policy, 62% failed to actively manage their online profile and 73% thought that staff spent too much work time networking online when they should be working.  66% of managers were concerned that the business could be damaged by inappropriate comments and content whilst 1 in 5 were weary of how openness on Linkedin could risk customers and staff loss. Breaches of confidence, data security, bad reviews and spurious claims were all major concerns.

But how do you minimize the risk?

1. As an employer, create a policy, even if you only need a statement. Social media should fall within your acceptable Internet usage policy, but be drafted with marketing and business development in mind.

2. Outline the benefits but be clear about what is and what is not permissible. Is access during office hours accepted? Is using office computers accepted? Make it plain that references to the business when using social media risks disciplinary proceedings if it is deemed to be negative.

3. Have visibility of who is active on social media, platforms they are using and, if necessary follow them to keep a handle on what they are saying.

4. Have a statement that clarifies the ownership of the outcomes of social media use (ie Linkedin contacts, blogs) when an employee comes to leave the company.

5. As an individual, be very clear about what you choose to post using social media. Once you post, you post to the world and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to retract.

Don’t risk your company’s hard earned reputation. Don’t risk your job.

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