It is vital that businesses use social media to grow. However, it is possible for businesses to face serious legal consequences if their employees or affiliates use any of these social media platforms. This applies to employees who are using social media for personal purposes as well as those acting on behalf your business. Smart business owners recognize the issues early and devise a strategy that will prevent liability and address them when they are discovered. A social media policy is a key part of any strategy. Many businesses create social media policies that do not address all potential concerns, or draft policies in a way that makes them illegal.
How can you make sure your company’s social media strategy isn’t a disaster? You must first understand the risks involved in social media.
What could go wrong for my business in social media?
Here are some legal issues that your company may have in relation to social media.
Employees who disclose confidential or proprietary information in blog entries that can be seen by millions of readers.
Employees who make discriminatory or demeaning comments on social media about your company or any other employees.
Employees who make objectionable posts on Facebook pages. This can reflect on you and your business.
-Employees affiliates and other sponsored endorsers may expose their employers to liability by promoting the company’s products or services without disclosing their employment relationship. FTC clarified that all “material relationships” between endorsers and sponsors must be disclosed when a product endorsement is made. This includes any type of positive review. Sponsored endorsers could also expose your business to liability if they make deceptive claims about products or services.
How a Social Media Policy can Protect Your Business
A written policy on social media should be adopted by all employees and third-party marketers. Although it is not an absolute protection from liability, employers must have written policies regarding social media that protect the employer and are consistent with company culture. These policies can not only be used to deter employees but can also be used as a basis for terminating affiliates and other third-parties.
But what should your company’s social media policy really say (or not say)?
Your company’s social policy should clearly state to employees what your expectations are regarding social media use on and off the job. While expectations can vary from one company to another, employers should be aware of the rules that apply to social media usage. These include rules against unlawful sexual harassment and other liability, disclosure rules, confidentiality and proprietary information rules, as well as policies regarding corporate logos and branding. Below, I will provide more details on what your policy should include.
Employers need to understand that employee social media usage may be legal. For example, some states have laws that protect employees’ off-duty activities as well as political affiliations. The Federal National Labor Relations Act provides protection for employees engaging in “concerted activities.” This often includes the right of employees to discuss terms and conditions of employment with their co-workers or outsiders. A social media policy that has not been updated in the last two years is likely to have failed to comply with the National Labor Relations Board’s guidance. This includes the right to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and outsiders.
Below are some guidelines that you should include in your social media policies. To refer to employees, affiliates, and all other sponsored endorsers, I use the term “employees”.
-Employment Rules & Company Code of Conduct
Employers should insist that all employees use social media in accordance with their employment agreement, employee handbook, or other code of conduct. This applies only to employees. Employees should be restricted from using social media for personal or work purposes without violating any company policy.
-Broad Use Declaration
It is important to mention that the policy covers all social media forms, including videos, posts, audio recordings, social networking sites, blogs and podcasts.
Information that is proprietary or confidential to the company should not be disclosed to employees. What happens if you are working on a new product? What about financial or other non-public information. There are many reasons to prohibit the disclosure of confidential and proprietary information on social media. It is best to limit disclosure by defining what constitutes “confidential” or proprietary information. This can be done in the same way as a non-disclosure arrangement. This should apply to both personal and company-owned sites. Be specific. Be specific. Rather than banning any and all disclosures of confidential information (such as customer information, trade secrets, business strategies, etc. ), ).
-Endorsements and Affiliation
Employees must clearly identify themselves as employees and include a disclaimer when commenting on any aspect the company’s business. Employees must not claim or imply that they speak on behalf of the company unless authorized. You should, for example, require employees to use the phrase “any views expressed by any employee are personal opinions and don’t necessarily reflect the views of ABC Corp.”
Sponsored endorsers are not allowed to make misleading or deceptive claims or advertisements about your products. All content must be truthful and accurate. You are as responsible as sponsored endorsers. Therefore, it is important to establish a policy and limit deceptive advertising. Any employee, affiliate, or other person who may be involved in deceptive advertising should understand it. Anyone you allow to promote your business’ products or services should be aware of the FTC and state consumer protection laws. Social media policies should protect your company’s bloggers, product reviewers, affiliates, and marketers from making such claims. The policy should also be included in any separate agreements with affiliates or independent marketers.
-Intellectual property & brand dilution
If permission is not granted, you should restrict employees from using company logos and trademarks on their personal blogs or Facebook pages. They should also be forbidden from putting these marks on any other online forum. Communicate clearly the company’s expectations, offer examples of acceptable scenarios and include a description of the company’s brand. It is important to make it clear that employees who create an online identity with the company or disclose their employment must also include the approved language in their online profiles. Positive policies can build brand advocates. If you set the rules, your employees can drive safely. Employees should not post unauthorized “promos” that claim to be from the company without prior approval.
Any content posted to any corporate fan page, blog or embedded into promotional multi-media applications (i.e. A company podcast must not be in violation of copyright, privacy laws, or defamatory.
Each employee should be required to seek approval before they post or add content to corporate blogs, Facebook fan pages, Twitter profiles, etc. You also need a system to monitor and remove such content.