Social media and social networking are the classic double-edged sword for businesses. An ineffective social media plan or unmonitored social media use can hinder the potential for expanding your brand and engaging with customers and clients online. Sure, as individuals we create our own social media profiles and have some control over our image. But as a business, your social media presence is determined not just by what you upload, but also by your clients or customers, and your employees.

Consider in the third season of HBO’s The Newsroom, the news corporation’s social media specialist tweeted an insensitive, snarky message in response to the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. She removed the tweet 27 minutes later, but it was too late as cyberspace had already pounced on the ‘hate-filled tweet’. Atlantis Cable News fired the social media specialist a few hours later, leaving the news corporation to recover and mitigate the damage.

Businesses should know the risks associated with social networking and take the appropriate steps to avoid negative publicity or legal action. You should understand how your employees engage with social media and possible consequences as an employee’s social media use can affect your business both internally and externally.

1. Content Policy

You need a social media content policy explicitly setting out what employees can and cannot publish on your business’ behalf. It may sound extreme, but it is necessary so that your business is not engaging in unhelpful, inappropriate or even illegal activity online.

General terms would include prohibiting employees publishing confidential information or unlawful material. It is also important to address content that may be specific to the nature of your business or industry. Be aware that you can’t prepare social media content policies that are contrary to your legal obligations under general legislation and industry regulations.

You should provide your employees with reasons supporting why they should or shouldn’t publish certain content, as well as to why each policy is important to the business. Some content may be okay for certain social media platforms and not appropriate for others. Outline to your employees which policies apply to which social media platforms.

2. Content Procedures

Most businesses will have a social media team or members of the marketing team whose role it is to develop the business’ online presence. Include in your policy a step-by-step process for the team members to follow in engaging in social media. This could include an approval process if required as well as a necessary removal procedure for any inappropriate content published online.

Another consideration could be the process of accepting friends, connections or followers and whether any procedures need to be in place.

3. Privacy

Privacy law in Australia means that you are likely to be bound by privacy obligations whether you are online or not. You should have a privacy policy communicating to your customers or users how your manage the personal information that you collect about them (either online or otherwise).

Make sure that your social media policy reflects and helps your employees uphold your obligations under privacy law. This could mean setting up procedures that enable privacy information to remain confidential and protected.

4. Security Strategy & Procedures

Within your business, you may need to work out who will have access to passwords and social media accounts. Put in place authorisation procedures so that team members are held accountable to each other. Consider how you will maintain your security through safety measures such as virus protection, firewalls, passwords, data backup, etc.

5. Acceptable Use Policies

Acceptable use policies apply to your users. It is not enough to manage your employee’s engagement in social media, but you want to make sure your users do not harm your business and that social media enhances your users’ experiences of your business.

Prepare an acceptable use policy or terms of use for your users to know what content is acceptable and what you will do with posts that are not. If you intend to remove posts or ban users who publish explicit or offensive material, you need to let them know and give them a warning.

But there is a limit to the control that you have over your users’ posts. For example, you cannot entice users to post positive reviews online by offering them a reward. Similarly, you cannot boost your business by simply deleting all negative comments. If you do this, you may be in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

Key Takeaways

Social media needs to be a carefully thought-out tool your business uses for promotion and to improve its customer or client experience. An effective social media policy will protect your business from destructive online behaviour, and help your employees engage effectively online. Questions? Get in touch with our employment lawyers.

Dhanu Eliezer

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