So­cial me­dia

Finweek English Edition - - BUSINESS - Jes­sica Hub­bard

Most com­pa­nies have moved be­yond ask­ing whether they need to use so­cial me­dia – with the ob­vi­ous an­swer be­ing ‘yes’. From stock­bro­kers to small re­tail­ers, Government and even banks, there’s lit­tle doubt that busi­ness has gone ‘so­cial’.

Yet most com­pa­nies – re­gard­less of size – have not moved to the next crit­i­cal phase, in which one def ines how em­ploy­ees should use so­cial me­dia plat­forms. All too of­ten, we have seen the line be­ing blurred be­tween per­sonal and pro­fes­sional use of plat­forms such as Twit­ter and Face­book, which ends badly for both em­ployee and em­ployer. Not only can there be ir­re­versible rep­u­ta­tional dam­age, but com­pa­nies can be­come em­broiled in sticky le­gal squab­bles.

In the US, for ex­am­ple, one of the most ac­tive le­gal ar­eas of so­cial me­dia for busi­ness has been in the con­text of em­ploy­erem­ployee re­la­tions.

In 2011, the US Cham­ber of Com­merce re­ported that the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board (NLRB) had re­ceived 129 cases in­volv­ing so­cial me­dia. The ma­jor­ity of claims con­cerned overly re­stric­tive em­ployer so­cial me­dia poli­cies or em­ployee dis­ci­pline, and even ter­mi­na­tion based on the use of so­cial me­dia. While the US is no­to­ri­ous for be­ing overly liti­gious, lo­cal com­pa­nies should take heed. The ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion is to have a so­cial me­dia pol­icy – but as Fin­week has found – very few com­pa­nies have one.

“Un­for­tu­nately, com­pa­nies tend to only re­act af­ter a cri­sis has hit,” ex­plains Matthew Buck­land, MD of dig­i­tal agency Cre­ative Spark In­ter­ac­tive. This re­ac­tive re­sponse to so­cial me­dia-re­lated crises as op­posed to tak­ing a proac­tive, pre­ven­ta­tive ap­proach, can largely be at­trib­uted to ig­no­rance. “Many com­pa­nies are un­aware of the risks in­volved with be­ing ac­tive in the so­cial me­dia space, and they are even less aware of the risks their own em­ploy­ees’ be­hav­iour poses,” says Craig Rod­ney, MD of Cere­bra, a lo­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency and on­line rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment spe­cial­ists.

“There are a num­ber of risks that com­pa­nies can face: from brand dam­age by as­so­ci­a­tion, to slan­der, dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism, copy­right in­fringe­ment and much more. Em­ploy­ees who haven’t been trained or made aware of the risks of­ten put their em­ploy­ers at risk through ig­no­rant and un­e­d­u­cated be­hav­iour on a pub­lic plat­for form.” So how does one go about cre­at­ing an and im­ple­ment­ing an ef­fec­tive so­cial m me­dia pol­icy?

Ac­cord­ing to Rod­ney, a so­cial me­dia pol­icy should out­line the risks of so­cial me­dia and pro­vide em­ploy­ees with rules and guide­lines, best prac­tices and ac­cepted be­havioural ex­am­ples that em­power them to be­have ac­cord­ingly. “There should also be gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion about the laws of defama­tion and how em­ploy­ees con­duct the them­selves on pub­lic so­cial net­works,” add adds Buck­land. “Re­mem­ber, jour­nal­ists are now re­port­ing di­rectly off so­cial netwo works like Twit­ter and Face­book, so even though you may only have 10 fol­low­ers or friends, if your pro­file is pub­lic, your pro­nounce­ment po­ten­tially could end up as a quote in an ar­ti­cle in a mass na­tional daily.”

“In ad­di­tion,” says Buck­land, “any so­cial me­dia pol­icy also de­pends on the em­ployee. Se­nior em­ploy­ees or em­ploy­ees with a pub­lic pro­file in an or­gan­i­sa­tion should have a dif­fer­ent set of rules to those who may not be as se­nior or have a pub­lic pro­file,” he ex­plains. “In the lat­ter case, the rules could prob­a­bly be re­laxed.” When it comes to set­ting pol­icy, there are now many out­side ex­perts who can as­sist HR teams and man­agers, or one can even down­load or pur­chase so­cial me­dia pol­icy tem­plates as a start­ing point.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, it comes down to the dis­cre­tion of em­ploy­ees, and to some ex­tent, their loy­alty. “It’s prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence that ‘pol­icy’ and ‘po­lice’ have a com­mon ety­mo­log­i­cal ba­sis,” says Andy Rice, a brand strate­gist. “But if a so­cial me­dia pol­icy is only sus­tained by vig­i­lant polic­ing (= “con­trol”) your brand is in trou­ble!”

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