As little as five years ago, you may have snorted at the suggestion that social media would be important for your business. “Facespace…bah! What moron spends his days on that nonsense?” Today, many of your employees regularly use social media during work hours, probably at your urging.
With the benefits of social media come pitfalls. As the law begins to catch up with technology, social media use has led to lawsuits.
For example, singer Courtney Love was involved in one of the first Twitter defamation suits by a fashion designer whom Ms. Love savaged in some tweets. And social media use has spawned employment lawsuits. For instance, in a class action suit filed against the Chicago Police Department, officers are demanding overtime backpay after being issued mobile devices because they were required to respond to messages while off-duty without being compensated for their time.
Because of the fast-changing technology and legal issues, you should react by implementing a policy by which you communicate guidelines to control the social media activities of your employees. Your employees are probably regularly using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many others during work hours, often for business purposes. You should understand the potential legal issues associated with social media sites and should design a policy that will help your dealership avoid those problems.
Step 1: Know the Issues
Using social media is like any other social interaction, except content that is put online is recorded forever in cyberspace. It is this “forever-ness” quality of the internet that makes it a potential legal hotbed. The following is a list of common legal issues:
- Defamation – posting false facts about a competitor or another individual
- Privacy Violations – putting private information on the Internet; especially non-public, personal information of customers
- Interference with Business Relations – making false claims designed to drive a competitors’ business away
- Trademark and Copyright Infringement – Improperly copying and pasting another’s work or confusing customers about a brand
- Negligence – assuming a duty online and not following through
- Breach of Contract – as a result of an unintended agreement
- Sexual Harassment/Discrimination – unwanted or harassing postings
- Unlawful compensation – employees not paid for mandatory use after work hours
Step 2: Develop a philosophy
Even if you think that you want to prohibit employees visiting social media sites at work, the genie is out of the bottle. Your employees are on social media sites during work hours. But you should use your employees’ activities on these sites to the benefit of the dealership because that’s where buyers are today. This makes it all the more necessary to employ controls and manage risk.
Develop a clear philosophy about internet use. How much will you allow employees to engage in social networking? Will your rules be strict or liberal? Do you currently or are you planning to have a legitimate business use for social media, such as a dealership Facebook page, Twitter site or company blog?
Step 3: Implement a Social Media Policy
Once you have established your philosophy, your next step is to design and implement your policy. It should address both your employees’ private use of social media, as well as business-related uses. Think about addressing these issues.
1. Require professionalism. Counsel employees on what is appropriate, how to use better judgment, and, if in doubt, to consult a manager. Tell employees that they will be personally liable for commentary that is considered defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libelous. Tell them to avoid objectionable and harassing topics.
2. Tie in with existing policies. If you have existing policies, codes of ethics, or behavioral guidelines, tie them into your social media policy. State that any policies already implemented in your workplace (e.g. anti-harassment, professional conduct, protecting trade secrets) are similarly applicable in the context of social media.
3. Put controls on dealer-hosted social media. Many dealerships incorporate social media into their businesses, usually as a marketing tool. Make sure employees use the same level of professionalism, customer service and follow-up procedures as they would in any other business interaction. Tell employees that ALL content posted to any dealership site MUST relate to dealership business. Indicate that the dealership reserves the right to request that certain subjects be avoided, to withdraw certain posts, and to remove inappropriate comments.
4. Don’t waste opportunities. Social media can be extremely lucrative for your business, but only if it is used systematically and with a focused business purpose. Put a manager in control to keep track of content. If your dealership has a site that requires constant updating, such as a Twitter page, make sure that this is done regularly. Be sure to establish procedures for dealing with leads from your social media sites and that your employees follow up. A customer who “tweets” or “pokes” is accustomed to instant communication. The customer will not wait hours, let alone days, for a response.
5. State clearly what employees CANNOT post. Whether in an employee’s personal post or on a business-related post, the following should be prohibited.
- Dealer proprietary information (i.e. anything financial in nature, business secrets, internal information, etc.)
- Copyrighted information; Internet postings must respect intellectual property laws. Employees should never cut-and-paste content
- Trademarks or Logos (without express permission)
- Customer Information
- Photographs of customers or vehicles (without express permission from the customer and the dealer)
6. Competitors. Make sure that employees know that they should NEVER discuss competitors. If a competitor’s name comes up, use the opportunity to sell your dealership.
7. In non-business postings where the dealership is mentioned, leave no doubt who the employee is and the relationship to the dealership. Require that an employee identify himself or herself by name. Prohibit postings about the dealership under an alias. Do not permit postings about the dealership unless they are approved by management, they are consistent with the dealership’s positive image, and the employment status of the poster is revealed.
8. Employment information on social networking profiles. Your employees may indicate that they are employees of your dealership on their personal profiles. Remind them that if they identify themselves as employees they must ensure that the contents of their profiles are consistent with how they wish to represent themselves professionally. Similarly, as business networking sites such as LinkedIn gain popularity, you should put controls on profiles that mention your dealership. If your dealership recommends or requires that employees have a LinkedIn page, consider creating a template or model profile to which employee profiles must conform. You should require company approval when the employee is posting about the company and the industry.
9. Indicate that after hours participation is optional. State that your dealership is not requiring or encouraging that employees contribute to dealer-hosted social media outside of their regular work schedule. State that any activities after work hours on social media platforms are the result of their own choice and on their own free time.
10. Give your policy teeth. Have employees acknowledge and sign the policy. Tell them that they do not have an expectation of privacy while using the internet at work and that their postings may be reviewed. Take disciplinary action, if necessary. Violations should have consequences.
Above all, regularly monitor social media use and remind employees that internet postings last forever.