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Social media: The 7 elements of a legally smart company policy

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in Career Management,Firing,Human Resources,Workplace Communication

Whether your employees are blogging reviews on Google, posting endorsement videos on YouTube, getting your company on wiki sites or branding your company on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, social media is clearly the wave of the future.

Social media can help you collect industry-based knowledge, reach new customers and build your brand.

But those benefits come with their fair share of legal risks. You need a comprehensive social media policy to guide employees on your expectations about their online behavior, especially when that conduct occurs in the name of the organization.

Here’s what your social media policy should address:

1. Use of business-related social media

Address how and when you want employees to use social media to support, market and brand the organization. The policy should also inform employees whether they can affiliate themselves with the company on social media sites. If your organization does allow employees to associate their online profiles with the company, include guidelines on the permissible contents of that profile.

2. Confidentiality

Inform employees what you consider confidential company information: client names, projects, price lists, vendors and competitors. Tell them that posting confidential materials on social media sites is a disciplinary/firing offense. While you might be held responsible for your employees’ actions when client/competitor confidentiality is breached, a good policy will, at the very least, demonstrate that you took precautions to prevent such breaches. This can help limit your liability.

3. Copyright, fair use, financial disclosure

The policy should inform employees that it is improper to use social media to publish protected materials and intellectual property of another company or person.

4. Transparency/disclaimers

Instruct employees to always identify themselves and be honest in their posts about who they are and what they do. When an employee’s post to a blog or web site outside your company touches or concerns work in any way, she must state that, “the postings being offered are my own and do not necessarily represent the company’s opinions, positions or strategies.” This insulates your company from the rogue opinions of employees that could create liability exposure.

5. Language

You can restrict the language that employees use on social networking sites. Specify that you won’t tolerate profanity, inappropriate speech or bad-mouthing of other employees. Communicate the expectation that employees should always be loyal to the company when communicating online.

6. Content approval

The policy should require that anything employees post on the company’s web site or on “fan” pages must first be approved by a department or executive.

7. Disciplinary process

State clearly that violating the policy could lead to discipline or termination. Explain what you mean by discipline—for example, oral warning, written warning, suspension, termination.

If you have any policies that you distribute to employees, you should also have an “at-will” employment disclaimer stating that the policy does not create a contract of employment and that an employee may be terminated at any time, for any reason.

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Author Dena B. Calo, Esq., is counsel at Genova, Burns & Giantomasi, a New Jersey-based law firm with offices in Newark, Red Bank, Camden, New York and Philadelphia.

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