GUEST POST: Social Media in the Small Business Workplace

Following up on this year’s theme – “Preventive Maintenance/Planning for 2012,” a clear, communicated and enforced company policy on appropriate and inappropriate Social Media (“SM”) usage is becoming increasingly critical.  One need look no further than the recent Papa John’s Pizza public relations disaster caused by an employee of a NYC-franchised Papa John’s Pizza operation who printed out a customer description on an order which contained a racial slur.  The customer then posted the actual receipt on Twitter and it went viral!  While the employee was “dismissed,” the damage had already been done, and theoretically, the posting could be up for a very long time.

There are some basics for all businesses and professionals, as well as non-profit and government agencies vis à vis their employees to consider when developing and maintaining a cogent, concise Social Media policy.  Because of space limitations and the ever-changing dynamics of SM as it evolves, this comment will only be able to cover a few items, but hopefully will be expanded upon in later postings:

  1. Try to create a positive SM approach;  list the purpose of your entity’s SM policy/goals/what you encourage employees to do with SM in a positive way.  Inform them regularly that if they’re not sure as to appropriateness of proposed posting, to check with supervisor first.   Common sense and sensitivity are good watch words to live by. The builder’s analogy of measure twice – cut once or think first before posting might be apropos here.  The advice If you don’t want to see your post/comment on the front page of a national paper, then don’t post it is also well taken.  Know or try to know your audience.

  2. Treat all communications on a business/professional plane as blurring of on/off-job is an easy trap in which to fall.  Create a Business Code of Conduct/Guidelines to deal with all forms of SM before it becomes a problem;  do not allow any false i.d./anonymous postings, even when they would be positive postings (credibility important).


Social Media Company Code of Conduct/Guidelines

Elements:

  1. Postings/usage may not contain nor promote:  adult/sexual activity;  obscene, defamatory, libelous or unlawful/illegal content;  content infringing on 3rd party rights, including Intellectual Property, privacy, publicity or other personal/proprietary rights;  deceptive or fraudulent material/postings;  gambling;  inflammatory religious or hate speech;  politically religious agenda and/or association with hate, criminal or terrorist activities;
  2. No data gathering, mining, extraction;  spam;  solicitations;  pyramid schemes;  no use of another’s account without written authorization from the company;  may not create a false identity
  3. How company activities/mission may be discussed;  when in doubt, do NOT discuss without checking first with company supervisor
  4. Company may interdict postings or refuse access to company site at any time if in company’s sole judgment content is objectionable or might expose company to liability or harm, and/or relates to confidential company information
  5. Promote yourself as a “thought leader” and avoid over-selling company;  business ethics observance
  6. Be aware you represent the company and act accordingly;  disparaging comments re:  company will reflect poorly on employee and for future employment with other company
  7. Do not blur individual position with that of acting as company representative/spokes person
  8. Company not to be held liable for employee violations of others’ IP and other rights.

[Disclaimer:  The above is intended as an outline of potential issues/concerns and to give the reader a general perspective/overview of potential legal issues involved.  The above is not intended to cover all potential situations, nor should it be considered specific legal advice with respect to any particular set of circumstances.  Consultation with an attorney well versed in Social Media/Internet issues is recommended before implementation of SM policies/protocols/programs and any related issues as they may come up.  ~John D. Pellegrin, Esquire - jp [at] lawpell [dot] com – 703-250-1595]

 

Ray: What are your thoughts about the above thoughts from John? I’m curious to hear everyone’s take on Social Media policies, guidelines and “codes of conduct.”