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Social Media Policy

Social Media Series: Employers Should Consider Creating Their Own Social Media Policy

 

This article is part of an on-going, social media series.


According to a recent ethics and workplace survey by Deloitte, social networking sites are a part of everyday life for employees, with 66 percent acknowledging that they visit sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr at least once a week. Although an employee’s use of these sites may appear on its face to be a personal activity in which the employer should not interfere, the reality is that an employee’s private use of such sites may have consequences that impact their employer.

Is an employee who engages in social networking for personal reasons at work being productive for her employer? Is an employee’s personal rant about his employer on his Facebook page placing his employer’s public reputation at risk?  Is an employee’s personal post on a social media site regarding a client business meeting placing her employer at risk for disclosure of confidential, proprietary or trade secret information?

Notwithstanding the expanding gray area between an employee’s private use of social networking sites and an employer’s professional consequences, only 22 percent of employers have a policy in place to control their employees’ use of social media.

So what should employers do? While there is no bulletproof protection for employers, they can help to avoid or mitigate some legal and ethical consequences by establishing an appropriate social media policy that fits their unique culture. Employers would certainly be wise not to simply copy a social media policy off the Internet. The policy for a small employer may be different than that of a large employer. The policy for a school may be different than that for a for-profit business. For example, a policy for a school may prohibit staff is from “friending” students, while a for-profit business may encourage staff to engage with clients and potential clients through social media as a form of professional networking — albeit with guidelines concerning proprietary and confidential information in place. On a general level, almost all employers should consider the same common factors when developing a policy.

·      First, may the organization’s employees engage in social media for personal reasons at work and, if so, are there any limits and how will the employer enforce such restrictions?

·      Second, given that an employee can tarnish an employer’s positive public reputation through social media activity, the employer should consider guidelines for employees’ use of social networking sites. Similarly, the policy should address whether an employee is permitted to identify himself as a representative of the organization when expressing his personal opinions about the company, and whether the employee should include a disclaimer in his personal blogs and posts that the opinions expressed are solely his own.

·      Third, given the liability that can result from an employee’s unscrupulous use of social media, the employer should remind employees of all other policies that may be implicated by one’s online activity, such as the anti-harassment policy, anti-discrimination policy and the confidentiality policy.

Underlying any social media rules for the office should be a policy about the employer’s intention to monitor employees’ use of electronic communications at work. If employees acknowledge that nothing they do on their work computers is private, the employer has likely already gone a long way toward nipping in the bud inappropriate use of social media at the office.

Lori Higuera, a director in Fennemore Craig’s Litigation Section, co-authored this article.

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What are your thoughts regarding this article?
Your comments won’t go unheard! (Or unread for that matter.)
The authors of this on-going social media series will be back monthly to answer any questions you may have and/or to continue the discussion. So let us know!

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Social Media as evidence

Social Media Series: Using Social Media As Evidence In Lawsuits

This article is part of an on-going, social media series.


When litigating against a former employee, the Internet can lead to an evidentiary goldmine for an employer. A former employee’s social media activity may provide evidence of the employee’s breaches, such as a violation of a non-competition provision or breach of confidentiality.

Courts have addressed the litigation strategy of discovering evidence in an employee’s communications in cyberspace. Two recent cases make clear that emerging law tends to favor an employer’s ability to tap into an employee’s social media space as another litigation tool.

In Indiana, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a sexual harassment suit on behalf of several employees who claimed emotional distress resulting from the alleged wrongdoing. As part of its defense, the employer sought to discover information from the plaintiffs’ Internet social networking site profiles and other communication from their Facebook and MySpace accounts. The court decided that this information was discoverable by the employer because the plaintiffs already had shared the information with at least one other person through private messages and perhaps a larger number of people through postings.

Similarly, in New York, the court rejected an employee’s assertion that her social media activity was private and could not come out as part of the lawsuit. She had sued her employer claiming discrimination based upon her disability. The employer sought to use her Facebook content as evidence that she was not disabled at all. Rejecting the plaintiff’s privacy concerns, the court explained there is no right to privacy in social media content, adding that when a person chooses to disclose information on a social media site this act of sharing such information weakens her ability later to claim the information is protected by privacy.

Even if not considered private, how can it be that an employee’s entire social networking site activity is relevant to his specific claims in a lawsuit? An Indiana federal court answered this question in a situation where the employer sought access to its employee’s entire body of social networking activity on Facebook and MySpace to seek evidence about the employee’s emotional distress claim.

The court determined all of the employee’s social networking activity must be turned over to the employer, including any profiles, postings or messages, status updates, wall comments, causes joined, groups joined, activity streams, and blog entries that reveal, refer or relate to any emotion, feeling or mental state.  Even though the courts’ recent actions show a general favoring for the employer when it comes to discovery of employees’ social media activity during a lawsuit, employers would be wise to watch their own social media activity. The impact of social media in trials reaches across the courtroom to everyone involved in the litigation, including the employer’s agents and key witnesses. Accordingly, employers should view the courts’ rulings on social media as a premonition and make sure their own organization is in order with the appropriate social media protocol and policies.

Lori Higuera, a director in Fennemore Craig’s Litigation Section, co-authored this article.

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What are your thoughts regarding this article?
Your comments won’t go unheard! (Or unread for that matter.)
The authors of this on-going social media series will be back monthly to answer any questions you may have and/or to continue the discussion. So let us know!

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Lynne King Smith, CEO of TicketForce

TicketForce Jumps Ahead Of Competition With Facebook App

For all you concert junkies, Facebook now meets concerts as TicketForce has just made purchasing tickets online even easier, joining forces with said social media platform.

Lynne King Smith, CEO of TicketForce, announced they will be merging ticket sales with the social media powerhouse in hopes to create an all-inclusive process for potential concert goers.

“We push the mark,” Smith said. “[We] take it a step further and have everything right in front you – [a] buy tickets tab.”

TicketForce acknowledges the impact of social media, as Facebook has jumped to the No. 2 spot in all U.S. Internet traffic in 2010 — just behind powerhouse Google, according to Alexa.com.

ConcertTicketForce’s website advocates to “Take your ticketing Social,” and that’s exactly what they’re doing with Facebook. The social media giant Facebook has crossed borders other social media sites such as Myspace and Friendster never have.  Facebook — in comparison to Myspace and Friendster — provide users a more professional and legitimate medium for online marketing and sales.

Smith strongly acknowledged the influence of the social media explosion in recent years, which allows TicketForce to be “very fluid and flexible…the company is able to respond [to customers] instantaneously.”

Smith said TicketForce initially developed the idea a year and a half ago but just recently gathered the company and developers together to make it a reality.  As this Mesa-based company continues to grow, they recognize the downfall of many ticketing agencies.

Smith made the point of minimal processing fees, which over the years Ticketmaster has increased.

However, TicketForce utilizes white label ticketing solutions, which in effect removes private agencies from the purchasing process and “makes the ticketing process more relationship based,” Smith said.  This allows for minimal fees, usually between $.50 and $2.00.

TicketForce offers an all-inclusive website where customers can utilize a user-friendly guide to shows playing nearby, a live Twitter stream and links to various other social media sites including Facebook.

“Our approach to business is to stay out of the way,” Smith said, and she stresses how important positive customer relations is for their business.

TicketForce has truly expanded their influence in the ticketing world far beyond Maricopa County.  They offer tickets in 48 states and Canada, and show no signs of slowing down.

TicketForce

For more information, visit www.Ticketforce.com, or check them out on Facebook.

Social media sites are no longer just places to reconnect with childhood friends or college roommates.

Social Media And The Hiring Process: Your Profile Can Sink Or Save You

Social media has set up camp in the professional world and is there to stay.

Social media sites are no longer just places to reconnect with childhood friends or college roommates. Companies now use social media websites to do unofficial background checks on potential employees.

A Cross-Tab Marketing Service study, released earlier this year, reveals that 70 percent of companies have rejected a candidate based on an inappropriate social media website posting.

This is a scary reality for everyone who uses these sites as a harmless way to catch up with friends, but may have crossed the line by uploading funny, yet work-inappropriate pictures. In today’s world, a world inextricably tied to the Internet, anything posted on a public page can and will be found by potential employers, says Lew Clark, an attorney with Squire, Sanders and Dempsey.

However, there are ways to prevent shooting yourself in the social media foot and, if you’re smart, work the system.

There are a few obvious things not to have on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube or other social media websites — including inappropriate photos or conversations. Poor grammar, spelling or writing skills, use of profanity, and poor people skills also can turn off a potential employer, Clark says.

“One of the huge no-nos that we discuss with folks … is to never, ever post anything negative about a former boss, co-worker, employer. It creates the wrong image. No matter if it’s true, valid, anything else, you just do not want to go there,” says Cindy Jones, vice president of human resources at Synergy Seven.

Don’t despair. Companies aren’t just looking for reasons to disqualify you. They’re also looking for reasons why you’re perfect for the job, Jones says. Especially on professional social media sites, such as Linkedin, companies look to see prospective employees’ connections.

If used properly, social media can be an effective marketing tool, Jones adds, providing a real-world example of how to use social media as an advantage.

When a woman decided to switch careers from Realtor to sommelier, she changed both her professional — Linkedin — and personal — Facebook — social media pages to reflect her new career path. She posted her excitement about passing tests toward receiving sommelier certification and changed her main picture to one of her toasting with a glass of wine.

While this type of online makeover won’t work for all fields, Jones says it’s an example of using social media to one’s advantage.

“There’s nothing at all improper with a prospective employer (looking) on someone’s public Facebook page, their public Twitter page, or any other online networking website that you can access publicly,” Clark says.

However, accessing a potential employee’s private page by figuring out the password, accessing it through someone else’s page or by pretending to be someone else is illegal, he adds.

Aside from accessing a page illegally, employers can find themselves in other sticky situations.

Employers may find information about a person’s religion, health, age or personal life that they wouldn’t otherwise learn and can’t legally take into consideration in the hiring process, Clark and Jones say.

“The risk to the employer is that someone could allege that you used information that is legally protected to decide whether to hire somebody or not,” Jones says. “Our guidance with most companies starts at the place of there’s nothing illegal about it, but be careful.”

Clark adds: “Employers are looking for whatever resource they can to try to get information about candidates so they can make a good hire.”

Background checks, including checking social media websites, can reduce costs, encourage honesty among employees and ensure the best person gets the job, says Marcia Rhodes from WorldatWork, a global human resource association.

Although using social media in the hiring process offers many perks, Jones and Rhodes say they’ve seen a trend in which companies are limiting social media background checks on possible employees, contrary to the report previously cited.

Kim Magyar, an attorney with Snell and Wilmer, says she doesn’t see the number of companies using social media decreasing, but companies are being more targeted and cautious with their searches.

Some companies wait until they’ve already interviewed a candidate to check social media, while others check before they conduct an interview, says Magyar, who has given presentations on social networking and the workplace.

Many companies believe social media can be a treasure trove of information; information that might not always be accurate, Magyar says.

“There’s nothing to prevent an employer from making decisions based upon what they see (on social media sites),” Clark says.

Nothing, except the awareness that public social media pages are fair game and the preparedness of prospective employees to maintain their pages in a way that represents them in a respectable, hire-able way.

Social media

Social Networks On Internet Pose Challenges And Opportunities For Businesses

Instinct: Nearly every decision a person makes in his or her lifetime can in some way be tied to an instinctual reaction. One of the most primal of instincts is survival and the key to our evolutionary climb has been the instinct to live in groups or the herd mentality. The instinct is simple — survival in numbers is far easier than going it alone.

The herd is now electronic and in the form of social networking on the Internet. No matter what your interests, you can find a social networking site that will allow you to communicate with like-minded individuals anywhere in the world, at any time. Technology, specifically the Internet, has removed traditional boundaries (distance, time zones, etc.) that previously limited “global gathering,” and this medium has literally exploded. Now more than any other time in our history people are gathering together. While virtual through the Internet, individuals continue to benefit from the comfort, safety and strength that are found in the herd.

Industries and businesses have increasingly been trying to figure out how to leverage the massive amount of information and consumers that are available on these social networking sites. Perhaps the two most prominent and recognizable social networking sites are Facebook and MySpace. Each has a demographic that is very appealing to businesses of all types. However, the primary obstacle to further leveraging these sites’ business appeal to date is resistance from the users to advertising or any other type of interference in their “personal space.”

For many social networking site users, the site represents a place of control and solitude from their everyday lives. Social networking site participants literally go there to get away and spend time in an environment that is entirely in their control. Now business is trying to integrate into a domain that many view as private.

While there may be a belief that these individual pages in MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are personal and private, the reality is they are not. Multibillion-dollar entities such as Microsoft and News Corp. would not have taken positions in them if they did not see the potential for a substantial return on their investments. The question is not if business is going to try to leverage these sites — the question is how. Advertising has always been the most obvious and first application of business on social networking sites, but how to advertise has been a trial-and-error process. Pushing advertising on users has proved problematic for both MySpace and Facebook.

The next avenue that business pursued was market research. In November 2007, Facebook encountered outrage from its users after it published users’ purchases for friends to see. While there was an “opt out” option, most users did not see it until after the fact. This tactic represented a huge PR issue for Facebook. However, this marketing tactic is another, and perhaps the most viable, business option for organizations to leverage through the social networking sites. The amount of data that the sites capture can be gold. But the site owners have to be extremely careful with how and what information they are sharing outside of the site. First there are privacy concerns, but second, a site that does not listen to the concerns and needs of its user base is destined for failure. With the rate at which new sites are popping up, the landscape to attract users is dramatically more competitive than it was even two years ago.

So the question still remains — will social networking sites become a tool for business to increaseproductivity, start small businesses, and develop larger organizations through market research? Maybe, but probably not.

To quote Tom Davenport, who holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College in Massachusetts, and formerly lectured at Harvard University: “I see no evidence that students andyoung adults — the audience for which these tools were originally intended — want to use the tools to do their business.”

The fact that many users go to these sites for relaxation and enjoyment leads me and others to believe that the use of social networking sites for business, other than advertising and marketing, is severely limited and not likely to take off anytime soon.