Social Media

Social media can be a great way for brands to engage customers, but disgruntled employees or those who are overly casual about confidential business information have always posed a risk to employers. However, the damage was usually fairly limited. Not so, now that your employees are avidly tweeting, blogging, posting their statuses and avidly following everyone else. For better or for worse, social media is huge. What can you do when it goes terribly wrong?

Risks of Social Media Use in the Workplace

The first step in avoiding a social media disaster is to identify what your business’s potential risks are. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it may be enough to begin the conversation among you and other managers.

1. Defamation of your business or other damage to reputation – What if a disgruntled employee takes to the blogosphere to air grievances with management or a co-worker. It may be a mere expression of opinion and not rise to the level of defamation, but it could still do considerable damage to your company.

2. Defamation of a competitor – Now imagine the reverse. What if a loyal and enthusiastic employee, in misplaced zeal, sets out to disadvantage a competitor? If that action appears to have been taken in the course of the employee’s employment, your business could be liable for defamation or damage to the reputation of the competitor.

3. Harassment – What if the employee sets out to harass a fellow employee? If you, as the employer, become aware of this and do not take appropriate action to protect the victim from this conduct, the business may become liable for the failure to act.

4. Trademarks, trade secrets, patents and other intellectual property – Once your secret formula becomes public property, it may lose all value to you. There is no way to unring that bell.

5. Misleading and deceptive conduct – This can take any number of forms, from a misleading description of a product to untrue statements regarding an employee’s hours, activities or expense accounts. Social media can just make this problem worse.

6. Issues arising from working remotely – Social media and the internet in general make it more possible for employees to work off site. But what happens when that employee is injured or injures someone else at an offsite location? Is the employer liable?

7. Market manipulation – What if an employee of a publicly traded company lets slip some information about an upcoming merger or divestiture before it is publicly available, thus enabling followers to take financial advantage? This could become a securities law nightmare for your business.

8. Ambiguity regarding ownership of social media accounts – Employers are frequently encouraging employees to use their own social media accounts to tout the benefits of the business or product, essentially creating faux word-of-mouth advertising. What happens when the employee leaves the employ of that business? Who owns the social media account.

9. Wrongful dismissal – What if the employer discovers misuse of social media sites or misconduct using them and terminates the employee in order to limit the employer’s potential liability. This could easily become a free speech or privacy issue, making the employer liable for wrongful dismissal.

What you can do to protect your business?

The best way to avoid a social media disaster is  to prevent it by implementing safeguards against unwanted social media conduct. These may include:

  • blocking access to sites not relevant to the employee’s job function and monitoring employees’ social media use at work,
  • drafting and communicating a mandatory social media policy with all employees,
  • clarifying by contract the employer’s ownership of certain social media sites,
  • using technological measures to protect against viral and malware threats,
  • having a system in place to respond to complaints on forums, sites and fan pages, and
  • preparing a crisis management plan to deal with a social media crisis.

The attorneys at Owen Hodge Lawyers can help your business identify social media risks, craft a workable social media policy and respond to crises if they arise. Savvy use of social media can be an enormous advantage in business, but it carries risks as well. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780 or ohl@owenhodge.com.au, so that we can help you plan to use this tool to your business’s advantage.

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