Social Media Policy: Don’t Commit Business Suicide

business social media policy

Do you know the 3 types of social media policies companies should have?

There’s a Utah company that may have killed its business by creating a ridiculous social media policy.

The company gave all of its customers a contract addendum that required the customers to set up Facebook accounts and “like” the business’ FB page. In addition, the new policy authorized the company to use the customers’ photos in social media for marketing.

Misusing Social Media Policies as a Big Stick

It gets worse…

The company told customers that if they didn’t cooperate, the business would consider them to be in breach of contract.

Is this legal? Of course not.

Before any lawsuits have been filed, the company is already paying a heavy price.

Lost customers.

Negative publicity.

They’ve even been forced to shut down their Facebook page in damage control after its rating dropped to one star and the page was filled with angry comments.

Should Your Business Have a Social Media Policy?

That’s actually a trick question. You should have separate policies that cover your customers, your employees, and your independent contractors.

Your Customer Social Media Policy

Instead of threatening your customers, set up a system that pleasantly asks your satisfied purchasers to share their positive experiences in social media as an indirect way to promote your company.

  • Do: Show customers how to use Facebook, other social media, and review sites to serve as your brand ambassador using their own words. Comply with the posting guidelines for each site.
  • Don’t: Game the system by having them post to social media from your office. It sets off red flags at Google, Bing, and review sites if there are a bunch of canned testimonials and “likes” posting from a single IP address.

Your Employee Social Media Policy

Although you don’t want your company’s image tarnished by a rogue employee’s social networking, there are limitations on what your policy can do to control their actions.

For business-oriented sites like LinkedIn, it’s relatively easy to provide guidelines in your policy for what an employee can and cannot say, particularly with regard to their titles, role(s), and responsibilities at your company. However, content on personal social media sites like Facebook is tougher to control.

Your company’s Internet lawyer should craft a policy that doesn’t impose unreasonable restrictions on your employee’s free speech and privacy yet limits the ability of the employee to hurt your image by tying you to offensive or obscene content.

  • Do: Provide guidelines that sets parameters minimally necessary to protect your company. For example, if your employee identifies as a coke-snorting neo-Nazi who goes to plushie swingers parties, you probably don’t want your company’s name associated with those activities.
  • Don’t: Act like Big Brother. For example, never demand login access to your employee’s social media accounts or require your employee to “friend” you so that you have access to spy on the employee’s actions.

Your Independent Contractor Social Media Policy

If you’re outsourcing work to freelancers, you may not want your customers or competitors knowing that you’re doing so. It could mean lost business from unhappy customers and the competition poaching your talent.

  • Do: Limit the scope of what a contractor can and cannot say in social media about the contractor’s role at your company, including the services performed.
  • Don’t: Treat a contractor like an employee with your social media policy because it could be used against you to re-classify the contractor as an employee for taxes, worker’s comp, unemployment comp, benefits, and other purposes.

Is It Too Late to Set Social Media Policies?

Not yet…but waiting creates a ticking negative publicity time bomb that could go off at any time.

Even if you already have contracts in place, you can create policies designed to protect you and have them properly added as amendments. Not by using threats but with incentives (carrots) that make your new policies a win-win for everyone involved.

It’s also relatively easy for your Internet lawyer to set up your future agreements with customers, employees, and independent contractors so that the contracts include your social media policies too.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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