We are massive advocates of social media at Astonish, however we are also well aware of the risks involved for small businesses. This months guest blog is from Michelle Duckworth, Managing Partner of DBB Solicitors. The blog gives a fantastic insight into the possible legal implications behind your social media strategy.
Social media presents real commercial opportunities if harnessed effectively. After all, it forms part of everyday working practices, offering professional and personal benefits. It can engage clients, advertise and profile your company, provide feedback, facilitate networking and allow you to post comments and share experiences. Social media knows no geographical barriers, facilitating global access to your business.
But what about the risks involved in its usage? What if your business reputation was destroyed by a misplaced comment? What if you were the subject of a claim of defamation because of a comment posted by a member of your staff? Do your staff always act in good faith and with integrity when posting comments?
Social media has the potential to blur the boundaries between personal and professional use. How well informed are your staff in recognizing that the same ethical obligations apply to professional conduct as in an online environment. Members of the public will trust you. Any behaviour which undermines this trust damages not only you but your business.
Information shared with contacts or friends online, or information posted about you by contacts or friends, may be accessible to a much wider audience than is intended. This has the potential to reflect both positively and negatively on you.
It is good practice to regularly review the content of your personal social media channels. This will enable you to remove any information that you feel could reflect negatively on you or you do not feel comfortable with. Review a site's privacy settings to enable you to control and put restrictions on who is able to access your information. Be aware that by adopting privacy settings does not necessarily mean that the information you post on social media sites will be protected. Some sites are totally open to the public.
THE POTENTIAL RISKS
The law of defamation allows a person who considers that their reputation has been, or may be harmed by statements made by others, to sue for damages or to prevent the making of those statements. Defamation law can apply to any comments or opinions posted on social media sites.
An employer can be found liable for the acts and omissions of their staff if they have occurred during the course of their work. An ill-placed comment made by a member of staff can lead to a claim being made against the employer under the principle of vicarious liability.
Be careful not to inadvertently disclose confidential information.
Ensure you log out of social media sites, particularly if you share a machine with other colleagues. If you remain logged in your account can be viewed by another user, even if you turn off your machine or quit your browser.
Control over information
Consider how information on social media channels is used and by whom. The speed at which information can be circulated is something over which your company will have little control.
Right to be forgotten
Whether or not information is ever deleted from social media sites is a hot debate. Information published on social media is not always easily removable, particularly when this information comes from a third party.
Although much of the information on social media sites will be public, some of it will not be (either as a result of privacy settings or because it is only available to selected users). Information on social media sites could be produced as evidence by either side in
Minimizing the risks - Have a social media policy
Not all risk can be avoided but if you and your business engage in social media then you ought to seriously consider implementing a social media policy, the purpose of which should be:
- to ensure your staff are aware of your standards and processes;
- to ensure that the most appropriate channels are used; and
- to protect your business reputation from inappropriate use.
Consider the following when drafting:
- Strategy What is the aim of it and how does it fit in with your business?
- Guidelines for engaging What boundaries do you want to set?
- Management - Who will be responsible for ensuring compliance?
- Approvals – Do you wish to approve content before it is posted?
- Roles and responsibilities: Who will take responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the different activities, and who will be able to participate in social media activity within your business?
- Compliance: What happens if a member of staff does not follow the policy?
- Confidentiality: How will your business ensure that client confidentiality is maintained when social media is used?
- Consistency: How will your practice ensure consistency in its approach to drafting messages and contributing to discussions that take place within different social media
- Audience and format Who is the target audience? Having identified the audience, which social media channel will be used for the activity?
Social media should not be feared but embraced. It is one of the most effective ways to raise your business and personal profile. However, inadvertent and/or wrong usage is one of the easiest ways to destroy your business.
Should you require further information or assistance in drafting a policy or an approvals policy please contact Michelle Duckworth, Managing Partner at DBB solicitors on 01264 333336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.