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“Social Media Issues for Businesses: Facebook Face Offs and Twitter Twaddle”

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By Mary Jane Trapp, Principal

Businesses and non-profit organizations cannot ignore the impact of social media on internal and external relationships. There are more than 1.15 billion monthly active users of Facebook, more than 819 million of whom access on a mobile device. There are over 300 million active Twitter users. As of October, 2013, Twitter reported 500 million tweets a day. 82% of employees admit to using social media on the job for personal reasons.

There is a real potential for misuse of social media technology in the workplace. Here are some stats to ponder-1 out of 3 people have seen sensitive company information on social networking sites. 14% of employees admit to emailing confidential or proprietary information to third parties. 89% admit to using office systems to send jokes, gossip and rumors to outsiders, and 9% have used company email to send sexual, romantic or pornographic text or images. Despite this, only 1 in 5 companies have a social media policy.

Social media will necessarily affect the legal aspects of the employment relationship. Employees who discuss and complain about their working conditions or employers via social media may be protected under the National Labor Relations Act because of their right to engage in “concerted activity” for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. Note the Act applies to both union and non-union employers.

Best practices including following Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is true especially in light of increased employment litigation and the flood of active social media users who can start a campaign against a company or its product that “goes viral” before the company is even aware of the first post. Social media campaigns can work for or against your organization, so prepare for them in advance.

Here are some quick tips from my recent Geauga Growth Partnership presentation:

  • Social media is here to stay, but it is constantly evolving so keep up with the trends and new platforms.
  • Using social media in employee hiring and discipline poses difficult questions and potential liabilities. Your HR staff should discuss with counsel if, when, and how to use social media in advance of any hiring or disciplinary decisions.
  • Watch what the National Labor Relations Board does in the social media area because it has become its primary regulator.
  • There is no such thing as a standardized social media policy. The NLRB has taken issue with overly broad social media policies, so avoid a cookie cutter approach.
  • Your businesses’ intellectual property rights and its reputation are at risk because employees may either inadvertently or purposely reveal trade secrets via their social media or other internet posts or post negative comments about the company. Setting up Google alerts to learn when you or your company has become the subject of an internet article is one way to stay ahead.
  • Every organization needs a social media manager who will monitor the various platforms and jump on a negative post or stop a negative social media campaign before it spreads.

Our firm would be happy to assist you or your organization with that “ounce of prevention.”