- Do you tweet regularly?
- Do you regularly share personal opinions?
- Do you use your page to let off steam?
Be very careful about what you say!
Sally Bercow is currently being sued for libel because she tweeted "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*", amid intense speculation around the identity of a high-profile alleged paedophile. The prosecution have argued that the tweet was a “nudge and a wink to readers”.
Last year Matthew Woods was handed a 12-week prison sentence for posting jokes about April Jones and Madeline McCann. In 2011 alone, there were 1,286 prosecutions for “sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.
Some tweets are blatantly malicious, but there are many other instances where tweets, which are written in the heat of the moment can get you into a lot of trouble.
Because Twitter is spontaneous, it’s easy to write something in a fit of anger that you might later look back at and regret. If you said something in anger during a conversation, it’s easier to retract it. But if it’s been published, it’s there for the public record.
Here are a few sensible steps you can take to ensure you don’t get yourself (or your fellow staff) into trouble.
- If you want to say something personal, your business account may not be the place to say it. On Twitter, you can set up separate personal and business accounts, whereas your personal LinkedIn profile is also your professional profile.
- Think before you write. Even if you’re saying something on a personal Twitter of Facebook account, it’s still in the public domain and can get you into trouble. Use your common sense. Is this something that could be potentially libelous or get you into trouble at work?
- Delay before you publish. Social media management tools such as Hootsuite enable you to schedule updates in advance and then review them objectively later in the day. When you review posts, you’ll find it often they read very differently to how they read when you actually wrote them!
- Check your company has a social media policy for staff. The law can be confusing for many, and your staff may not be aware of the implications of what they’re writing. You have a responsibility to give them guidance.
- If your company doesn’t yet have a social media policy, it’s very easy to write one. IBM have a great template that you can can borrow from: http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/guidelines.html
When providing social media guidelines for staff, you need to advise them of the following…
- Tone of voice be used (serious/playful/non-aggressive etc)
- When and when not to “sell” to people
- How, and how quickly, customers’ complaints are to be responded to
- When, if ever, it is acceptable to refer to business matters on a personal account and vice versa.
- Infringement of copyright – what material can employees post from elsewhere?
- Avoiding conflicts of interest
- How to rectify mistakes e.g. when things are said that are misleading or inappropriate
- Disclosing confidential information
- Not damaging the reputation of the employer or their clients, partners, and suppliers
Some companies will avoid social media completely because they are scared of misunderstandings or of mistakes that might be made by staff. This is a lost opportunity as clients are increasingly using social media in their business communication. If you’re not active on social media, you’re no longer taken seriously.
By having a social media policy, not only will you make it easy for staff to understand what is and isn’t acceptable, you’ll give them the confidence to use it when communicating with clients.
Social media isn’t without its risks, but the damage you are doing to your reputation by avoiding it will ultimately be far greater.