In this golden digital age, whether or not your business is tech savvy and embraces social media can mean the difference between making or breaking a company or brand.

Popular platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter provide an opportunity to communicate with millions of people on a range of levels, reinforcing brand values and key messages. The responsibility of managing social media accounts is not to be under-valued.

However even high profile company bosses are not averse to the occasional “foot in mouth” mistake.  RyanAir’s Michael O’Leary has a reputation for posting amusing, but often inappropriate, social media commentary, but other misjudged tweets have caused a twitterstorm.  During the Egyptian revolution, Kenneth Cole, the boss of the clothing and accessories brand of the same name, tweeted: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo.  Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online …”

Apple boss, Tim Cook, has shown that a media savvy approach (even where tweets are made beyond the sphere of the business in question) can become hugely influential and positive for the brand.  This means that, done correctly, companies and their brand can come across more human by using social media creatively and wisely, with a greater connection to their customers. So how to you make sure you stay in control?

The Need for Protection

Whilst businesses ignore social media at their peril, they must be alive to the risks, particularly where the business does not have adequate protection in place.  Business risks arising from social media usage can include:-

  • The making of defamatory or libellous statements;
  • Messages which are “off brand”, or potentially damaging to the business;
  • Inappropriate or insensitive comments;
  • Risk of complaints from employees (including discrimination and constructive dismissal) relating to postings by colleagues (for example, on Facebook);
  • Employees posting offensive comments from personal social media accounts, but whose accounts are sufficiently identifiable with their employer;
  • Postings which are in breach of regulatory guidelines (in certain regulated professions);
  • Postings which breach client or customer confidentiality; and
  • Employees maintaining contact with their professional connections (which may include clients and customers) after their employment has ended (for example, on LinkedIn), even if they have restrictive covenants in their contracts. 

In a report by US data security firm, Symantec, it was estimated that social media mistakes cost major corporations around the world an average of $4,300,000.00 each in 2010, which arose as a result of PR disasters, lawsuits, regulatory fines, loss of revenue and reductions in share price.  One of the biggest risks posed by social media is the speed with which it moves, and companies can be caught out by mistakes going “viral” in a matter of hours. 

Whilst there are many ways of managing these risks, it is wise to consider the following:-

  • Identify the key risks, arising from social media use, for your particular business;
  • Have a social media policy in place for employees which could identify the following:
    • a named moderator who has final approval of any social media posts made on behalf of the Company;
    • clear rules regarding posts made by employees from their own personal social media accounts;
    • clear disciplinary rules regarding acts which will not be tolerated, and the possible consequences for the employee;
    • clear rules regarding professional social media (for example, LinkedIn), and its use post termination of employment (whether or not traditional post termination restrictive covenants are in place); and
    • clear guidance regarding monitoring and vetting of an employee’s use of social media during working hours (for example, resulting in time wasting).  

If properly managed, social media can be hugely successful in helping a business or brand come to life.  However, the advantages of a possible worldwide audience, and the speed of that connection, can also mean that any mistakes are potentially permanent and the damage can be irreversible.  If your business’s social media presence is to thrive, companies must identify the particular risks for their business and manage those risks appropriately.