Monday, 9 September 2013

Social Media Policies - What Issues to Cover?


Social media policies have been discussed many times purely from employment law perspective, and in particular, how employees’ acts and omissions in the social media should be evaluated in the employment relationship's termination and cancellation situations. So in other words in typical cases which may lead to long disputes unless considered and handled appropriately. 

Social media is, however, much more complex creature than it would first seem to be having relevance to several other disciplines. For example, to overall sales policies, webstore terms, brand strategies, IT, data protection, or taxation just to mention a few examples. Adan Smith, director from Wragge & Co has written an excellent article to this effect on social media marketing titled: "Don't make a # of it: Social media and marketing" which is definitely worth reading if you are considering policies and marketing in social media. The writing is available from here. He states the very truth that "Even with the most thorough planning, experience suggests that things can and do still go wrong. Businesses should have a well thought out crisis management policy in place, just in case". One example might be the famous case of "water bottle price" in a restaurant owned by one of the Finland's top chefs Hans Välimäki. As the price for a water bottle was very high, it caused significant negative consumer campaign in the social media. I do not know whether there was a policy in place in this case, but even the best policies might prove not to be bullet-proof. However, if you are planning to set up one you might face with a problem where to start and what issues should be covered. Let me show you a couple of points: 

"1. What are the objectives of the policy?
  • Permissive
  • Restrictive
  • Neutral
2. When the policy enters into force and how changes are communicated?

3. Should social media policy be the same or different for different businesses or business units?

4. Should technical measures to be implemented to prevent access to one or more social media services?

5. How the employer monitors communication in social media?

6. What is the personal responsibility of an employee in social media?
  • Employees' duty of loyalty
  • Differences, if any, between communication during one's free time as oppose to working time
  • Specific liability issues, e.g., for governmental officials
7. How to introduce yourself in social media?
  • Use of your own name
  • Use of employer's name and your working position
  • Use of employer's trade name, trademarks or other symbols or logos
  • Use of employer's e-mail
8. Stakeholders to be recognized when you communicate in the social media?
  • Other employees
  • Management
  • Owners
  • Customers
  • Potential customers
  • Suppliers
  • Partners
  • Competitors
9. How the use of social media can be beneficial for an employer?
  • Product reviews
  • Reclamations
  • Correction of incorrect information
  • Support
10. How to behave in social media?
  • Examples how people may understand communication differently?
  • Illegal, aggressive, obscene and similar messages
  • What is the process for handling violating or infringing materials?
11. How to handle contracts and IPRs in social media?
  • Contracts and their meaning in social media
  • Compliance with license terms regarding material in social media
  • Reference to the policy regarding usage of third party materials (citations, pictures and similar)
  • Personal undertakings in employment and directorship agreements, shareholders' agreements and similar
12. How to ensure data security and confidentiality issues?
  • Installations of programs to employer's environment
  • Closed/open environments
  • Policies regarding confidential information
  • Identification of confidential information
  • How compliance is monitored?
13. Insider information in social media?

14. How much time I can use in social media?
  • Positions/tasks
  • Relevant/irrelevant communications
15. How to comply with privacy issues in social media?"

To this last point I must focus in detail later due to the fact that the current EC privacy law regime is in transition. Why this is important is that the current proposal contains, e.g., provisions stating that the authorities "shall" issue fines for a breach of privacy and this fine may be so high as up to two percent of the global turnover (as oppose to "may" that might give us poor mortals some room for discretion). Therefore, this is one of the key issues also in social media policies, but currently it is not sure whether there is sufficient political support for this initiative, or whether it will be postponed.

Well I have now covered some points to help you to get started - until next time!