Organizations Should Create Appropriate Social Media Policies

The rapid growth in popularity of social media has left many business and nonprofit organizations unprepared to handle issues presented by this new form of communication.   Existing policies may not be adequate to address the novel issues involved.  We advise companies and organizations that use social media to implement social media policies that will address these concerns.

Ownership of Social Media Sites:  Establishing a social media account typically consists of creating a username and password.  Since businesses usually do not enter into a contract with the social media provider, or pay a fee for using the service, it may not be clear who owns the social media account.  With no other proof of ownership, it is too easy for a disgruntled employee or disruptive volunteer to claim ownership and take control of a website.  We advise clients to document, in writing, that the individual in charge of any social medium is operating only as an agent of the company and that all passwords and media content belong to the company.  Domain service providers do not want to be arbiters of fights between employees and employers – or between warring Board factions – and a signed agreement will provide needed proof of ownership.

Social Media Liability Risks: Remember that anything posted on social media is considered by law to be a publication, and thus posted messages face the same constraints as any other publication.  Be sure to assess each posting to be certain there is no defamation, copyright infringements, disclosure of trade secrets or other actionable use.

Social Media Etiquette:  Social media bring your business to a world-wide public, one whose members cannot be known or even estimated.  Thus, it is important to be certain that messages are carefully crafted to avoid antagonizing unanticipated readers. “Be professional” is the byword.  Make certain that messages are reviewed with a careful eye and ear to be sure that they set the right tone, are aligned with your values, and will not offend.

Social Media and Employee Relations:  To the extent that your employees might use social media to talk about work issues, their communications may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act.  Be sure that your personnel policies establish parameters under which it is permissible for you as the employer to discipline or terminate employees due to their use of social media.

Call Us for Help: If your company or organization does not have a social media policy we invite you to contact our office to discuss preparing a suitable policy that meets your needs.

The foregoing article was provided for general information.  Seek specific legal advice for your situation.  The attorneys of Bea & VandenBerk are experienced in representing organizations in employment and intellectual property matters.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

©2013 Bea & VandenBerk