Social media policies are vital for setting the expectation for employee behaviour on social media, and reduce the risk of reputational damage to brands.

Social media is not a new phenomenon, and for most organisations, has become a common channel for broadcasting content and engaging with customers. However surprisingly, reducing legal risks surrounding the use of social media continues to be a grey area for many organisations, large and small.

To help you avoid these legal pitfalls we’ll be providing regular updates on social media law including the latest news, tips to stay proactive and explain how changes in the law will affect the way your organisation communicates and shares information online.

Maintaining a vibrant social media presence is a key marketing tool for many businesses, however it also has the potential to cause major reputational damage to a brand. Social media has transformed the way in which consumers interact with businesses and share both their positive and negative brand experiences. It is also a tool used by employees to both promote and trash their employers’ brand.

Viral videos and photos of employees of various fast food chains engaging in unsavoury acts with food highlights the need for brand owners to protect their reputations from employees using social media on the job. Popular, yet gross, photos that have gone viral include images of Burger King employees standing in bins of lettuce and a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells. The employees involved claimed they were merely pulling pranks, however the brand owners were unlikely to have been amused.

Businesses with a strong social media presence should have social media policies and processes in place. They should also be training employees about their responsibilities when posting about the company online. Employees should be properly informed about these policies and know who to turn to with any queries.

A number of social media guidelines have been developed by industry and governmental bodies, which provide guidance to those conducting social media campaigns. For example, the Communications Council’s Social Media Code of Conduct provides guidelines for brands. These include:

  • have a crisis management plan in place to prevent damage to a brands reputation in the event of negative publicity;
  • when posting online be open about who you work for and your interest in the brand;
  • ensure posts are accurate and professional;
  • respect IP laws, the Privacy Act and Spam Act; and
  • avoid confidentiality breaches, such as referring to clients or suppliers without permission.

While some employees access social media from the office, it’s also out-of-work posting and tweeting that may cause a brand trouble. Feminist commentator, Clementine Ford, was described in an unfavourable light on Facebook by an individual, Michael Nolan, who had listed his employer as Meriton Apartments. She shared a screenshot of the inappropriate interaction with her 80,000 Facebook followers and tagged Nolan’s employer in her post, asking if they were aware of his behaviour. Given Nolan’s comments didn’t seem to have a connection with his employment, it’s possible that the matter may be forwarded to the Fair Work Commission. Hopefully, for Meriton’s sake, it had a social media policy which governed Nolan’s offensive behaviour.

Brand management isn’t the only reason to monitor social media

It’s not only your company’s brand you need to consider. The ASX expects public companies to monitor social media for specific content. According to ASX Listing Rule Guidance Note 8, where a market sensitive announcement is pending, ASX considers that the entity should monitor sites and social media that regularly contain posts about the business for signs that the information in the pending announcement may have leaked. If signs of such leaks are detected the entity is to immediately contact ASX.