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The social media world has revolutionised how we talk about our brand, engage with our clients and staff, how we recruit and how we market and sell – but are we protecting ourselves in this massive online environment?

In the rush to start talking online, many companies have neglected to think practically about how social media may negatively affect their business.  I get why (it’s not an exciting discussion point and often changes the tone of meetings I have with clients about social media and business growth) – but all the same it’s pretty crucial.

Just like having breakdown cover, insurance, MOTs and services on our cars, we need to think practically about this medium and have a simple, smart policy which protects us – then the fun can begin!

Some things to think about (even if you DO NOT use social media in your business):

  1. Does your contract of employment / social media policy cover you for “cyber bullying” – even outside of office hours?  Are you aware that you may be vicariously liable if one of your staff harasses another, for example, via Facebook, and one of them makes a complaint to you and you do not act?
  2. What policy do you have in place to protect your reputation, and that of your clients/suppliers?  What training have you given staff for how they behave, and what they say online?
  3. Productivity: how are you ensuring that your staff are productive whilst online?  Can you be sure that they do not regularly disappear down the rabbit hole of LinkedIn or Twitter (even if using for business)?
  4. What procedure do you have in place for dealing with negative online comments, either from your customers, or staff?
  5. What does your employee contract state about the collection of data online whilst working for you?  Who owns it?  How can you prove it was collected “on your watch”.  What steps have you taken to backup data collected from social media sites onto your CRM/ATS?
  6. Intellectual property:  are your staff talking about your product online in a way that could affect your intellectual property?
  7. Have you really made it clear what you expect from your staff whilst they are online, even whilst using their own personal accounts?  And have you made it clear what the consequences are for inappropriate online behaviour?
  8. Equally, do you make it clear to your clients how you use social media, for example, having Group Rules for a LinkedIn group you run, is not only a great “rules of engagement” piece, but a great way to market your approach and keep your clients engaged.
  9. In “old money” your staff’s marketing activities were restricted to emails (which if you had programmed your CRM right) were template-driven, phone calls (which managers can listen in to and help with training on the fly), leaflets (which the marketing department had control of), and websites (developed over a number of months, again by marketing department).  Now your staff have 100s of channels to talk online, in their time as well as yours – you have a right to deliver guidance and training on the use of them; you have a right to discipline them too!
  10. Does your corporate insurance cover cyber liability? Make sure that you are covered in the event of legal proceedings brought about from online activity.

I met someone recently who staunchly believed that if you treat staff as adults, they behave that way, thus no social media policy needed.  I kind of agree with treating people like adults bit, but equally I have managed enough staff over the years to know that things can go wrong, for many reasons, and often due to what they believed “common sense” was not my idea of common sense.

Thus I always advise my clients to have a grown up, easy to implement (and understand) social media policy.  Failure to have one can lead to unfair dismissal, a lack of rights of staff, employer, suppliers and clients – a bit too messy for my liking.

These are just some things to think about, there are more… Get advice (from someone like me AND a legal rep).  Protect your business – you have the right (and responsibility) to do that.

Some sources of interest:

Court orders ex-employee to hand over LinkedIn contacts

Negative Facebook Comments Does Not Mean Fair Dismissal

Social Media and Gross Misconduct

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