Social Media – Untapped Resource or Hot Potato?

The ability to reach out to vast numbers of potential clients at speed is something that most businesses desire. However, entering into the brave new world of social media without a specific social media policy can be akin to strolling onto a battlefield without armour. Both are ill advised. And regardless of your business’ intention to exploit the potential of social media, the chances are that your employees have already discovered it.

A recent report by law firm DLA Piper, Knowing your tweet from your trend: keeping pace with social media in the workplace, noted that “employers are struggling to resolve the conflict between business opportunities presented by social media in the workplace and the risk posed by employee usage”. At best this means difficult conversations with employees who blur the lines of what is and isn’t acceptable to the employer. Worst case scenario: unwanted headlines and tribunal claims.

A case reported in September 2011, concerning comments made by an employee on Facebook, acts to highlight that a derogatory comment posted online will not automatically amount to gross misconduct. Following the dismissal of an employee, Ventura were found to have responded unreasonably, as the comments in question were unlikely to impact upon the company’s working relationships.

Defined standards set out in a clear social media policy could prevent such cases from reaching Employment Tribunals altogether.

In one high profile example a ‘tweeter’, username @nakedCservant, was suspended by the Department for Communities and Local Government, where he was a senior Civil Servant, for allegedly criticising Government policies on Twitter. Curiously the comment was posted in Mandarin. Whether or not this has any bearing is yet to be known.

Ricky Coleman adds that “businesses need not deterred – the power of social media can be tamed, such as where a properly drawn up social media policy is in place.” In the recent case of Crisp v Apple Retail, an employee claimed unfair dismissal after he posted derogatory comments about his employer on Facebook. Crisp was held not to have been unfairly dismissed, as the employer had a clear social media policy in place which prohibited such behaviour in order to protect the company’s brand.

A suitable policy is therefore an essential part of any social media strategy, allowing businesses to exploit endless marketing opportunities, while addressing the risk of negligence on the employee’s part.