Social Media Policies and Disclosures: How to Save Your Company in Today’s Online Society

In today’s mobile driven society, it is critical for companies to consider implementing a social media policy. Why? It’s important because employee actions made online reflect the business they work for regardless of the post content. Whether it’s a tweet made off the clock about how much their job sucks or an inappropriate Instagram post while on the clock, an employee’s social network posts can have negative repercussions for their employer. According to an article on WERSM (we are social media), “16% of employees admit to posting negative things about their company on social media.”[i] This may seem like an insignificant number but when you consider that over 90% of people trust peer recommendations, this small percentage can lead to a negative company image. Companies should have a social media policy because it can help promote ethical behavior in the workplace as well as after-hours.

A concrete example of how employee social media posts can negatively affect your business can be seen by the 2009 Domino’s Pizza video made by some of its workers. The viral video displayed a couple workers in the Domino’s kitchen performing grotesque, unsanitary actions on food items before putting them under the food lamp for delivery. Even though the employees claimed that it was a prank and the contaminated food was never served to customers, the restaurant was forced to close down by the Health Department until it could meet proper sanitary requirements. Not only did this video reflect poorly on the company and cause revenues to slip by 1 to 2 percent that quarter, but the employees faced severe charges and lost their jobs. It was a lose-lose situation that could have been avoided if the employees had a clear understanding of what was expected of them on social media and if they were provided with other outlets to voice their feelings. It is also important to have a policy in effect to legally handle issues if they arise.

Even though The National Labor Relations Act grants all employees the right to discuss their working conditions, this doesn’t mean that employees have free reign over their social media content. As an employer, a social media policy should be gives employees a clear understanding of what they can and cannot share online. It should also clearly define illegal activity such as trademark and copyright infringement.[ii] In order to hold employees responsible for their online posts, social media policies should also include a section that describes the consequences of negative social media behavior as well as how to maintain open lines of communication online. A social media policy should reflect the company’s values and how they want to be viewed by the world. It should be presented to employees in a down-to-earth manner so that they can understand how their actions can affect the company. Educating employees on how they should act on social media has more benefits than just avoiding the subject. It’s like having Internet insurance policy for your company- your coverage might not be enough but what is important is that you have it. At the end of the day, people will post whatever they want to social media but at least having a social media policy can potentially sway them to shy away from negative comments relating to your company.

In my opinion, the single biggest legal issue impacting social media marketers today concerns disclosures. The Federal Trade Commission mandates that all forms of advertising must include accurate product descriptions and that their promotions must be honest. This means that marketers “need to disclose any bias on their promotional materials.”[iii] Also, it is a deceptive business practice to “buy” social media fans and followers.[iv] Paid endorsement also tends to be a little grey when considering sponsored athletes, bloggers, vloggers, etc. According to FTC guidelines, disclosures have to be made clear and conspicuous when someone is receiving product or support from a business. If an individual is getting paid to endorse a product, there must be clear disclosure so that readers understand the business relationship. Contests and sweepstakes rules also require disclosure. A specific example regarding disclosures is the FTC and Deutsch L.A. settlement that concerned the agency’s illegal promotion of PlayStation Vita. Basically, they failed to disclose a bias with their Twitter hashtag #GameChanger and encouraged their employees and public to tweet positive statements about the hand-held gaming device. This was a violation of the FTC’s disclosure policy as the brand failed to have a full disclosure about their intentions on the social media platform, Twitter. Marketers can learn from this discrepancy and make sure that any marketing promotion involving a third party has clear disclosure. Hashtags as short as #client, #ad, or #sponsored can save marketers a lot of steam from the FTC.[v] Overall, when in doubt, use a disclosure.

[i] Villy. “How Negative Social Media Comments Affect Your Employer” 17 Nov 2014. Accessed 21 Nov 2015 <http://wersm.com/how-negative-social-media-comments-affect-your-employer/&gt;.

[ii] Akitunde, Anthonia. “Employees Gone Wild: 8 Reasons You Need A Social Media Policy TODAY” 15 Aug 2013. Accessed 21 Nov 2015 <https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/employee-social-media-policy/&gt;.

[iii] Castillo, Michelle. “FTC: No, Agencies Can’t Ask Staffers to Casually Tweet Nice Things About Clients” 4 Dec 2014. Accessed 21Nov 2015. <http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/ftc-no-agencies-cant-ask-staffers-casually-tweet-nice-things-about-clients-161755&gt;.

[iv] Manna, Joseph. “Tips to Avoid Legal Issues in Social Media.” Accessed 21 Nov 2015 <http://www.infusionsoft.com/blog/tips-avoid-legal-issues-social-media&gt;.

[v] Beck, Martin. “FTC Puts Social Media Marketers On Notice With Updated Disclosure Guidelines” 12 Jun 2015. Accessed 21 Nov 2015 <http://marketingland.com/ftc-puts-social-media-marketers-on-notice-with-updated-disclosure-guidelines-132017&gt;.

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