Taming the Social Media Monster

Whether you are an employer or an employee (and chances are you are one of the two), you need to follow a few basic rules when it comes to social media.

1.  TAKE CONTROL: Employers should set up business-owned social media accounts and maintain supervisory control. Sure, you can designate the former “English Major” employee to author posts, tweets, etc., but make sure the account is in the name of the company, the company pays any related service or advertising fees, and the posting employee understands he or she is posting on behalf of the company – even if they are posting as individuals. It is important to make sure social media content posted on behalf of the company remains company property and not that of the employee.

2.  READ THE FINE PRINT: Be sure to read (or at least review) each service’s “Terms of Use” or “User Agreement.” Most services will not use your content, but they usually retain some right to do so. For instance, a recent viral Facebook posting is going around stating that Facebook’s publicly traded status now makes all of you content public information. This is, of course, not true. But the post does underscore the importance of knowing what a social media service may do with your posted information. Those rights will be spelled out (somewhere) on each service’s “Terms of Use” or “User Agreement.” By the way, Facebook does retain the right to use pictures or posts you include on your account for certain purposes. So, don’t expect complete ownership or privacy with anything.

3.  DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID:  These were often the last words my brothers and I heard from my Dad as we went out the door. I find they apply in a lot of situations, but particularly when it comes to social media. Remember, what you post in a moment may be permanently etched in cyber space. Federal law protects an employee’s right to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others. An employee cannot be fired on the basis of such statements. However, courts have recently upheld terminations where the employee continued to author “unprofessional Tweets” despite his employer’s warnings, and where an employee posted a personal attack of her supervisor on Facebook. Be smart!

4.  MAKE IT POLICY: Employers, you should have a social media policy incorporated into your employee handbook. If you don’t, I’m sure you will soon. It’s not a matter of if, but when social media will create an employment situation you will need to respond to. A note of caution, however. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board has been taking issue with employer policies that are “too broad.” In short, you must be careful not to illegally restrict your employees’ right to association or free speech. That being said, employers have the right to control their employees behavior (to certain extents) in and out of the workplace, and to protect their hard won image and reputation. Seek competent legal advice when crafting your social media policy. Failure to do so may result in no protection at all, or worse, a wrongful termination suit.