Your sales personnel are on social media communicating with customers, prospects, and suspects. Sometimes they are simply posting truncated versions of your advertisements for mass distribution on the chosen social media platform. Sometimes they post their own offers. “So what,” some might ask, “if salespeople do this on their own there is no cost to the dealership.” Wrong!
Social media posts with offers are advertising. If a salesperson’s posts violate federal or state laws applicable to advertising, your dealership could be liable in a government regulatory action. If an employee’s posts contain false or misleading information, your dealership could face a lawsuit by a disappointed prospect who responded to it. You go to great pains to ensure that your advertising complies with federal and state laws to prevent liability. Social media postings can be a major hole in your compliance program, and you should do something. Here are some questions and answers on steps you should take.
How do I protect myself? Start with a written social media policy. Design it with input from those in the dealership who use social media and your outside marketing and advertising advisors. Those of you who say your employees are not using social media in your business because you have an employee handbook provision that prohibits communications on the internet while at work, you are whistling past the graveyard. The world has moved beyond that. Your customers are on social media. They expect your business to be on social media. Your employees are accommodating that by being on social media. You must manage social media use. The way to start is with a written social media policy.
What are social media postings? We are not talking about texts and emails. We are talking about communications by your employees on and through platforms that afford users opportunities to exchange messages, photos, videos, and opinions.
What should the policy cover? Business communications. Postings by an employee that appear to be on behalf of your dealership should be covered by your social media policy.
- All postings should follow company policy about dealings with customers. You would not stand for salespeople making defamatory, obscene, or libelous remarks directed at your customers in the showroom. Your social media policy should provide that is not appropriate in the virtual world.
- You do not permit mistreatment of others verbally or by actions in your dealership. Do not allow it through social media postings. The policy should prohibit ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or other conduct not acceptable in the workplace. Comments about others should be avoided, but if made in a social media posting, they should be respectful.
- Too often, employees post truncated versions of advertisements or their own attempts at advertising without important qualifying information. Make sure that employees understand that social media posts are advertising. They must comply with advertising rules and regulations. Unless they are prepared to present all the terms of an advertisement, including all qualifying information, they should not be posting advertisements.
- We have often commented that your customer base is your dealership’s second most valuable asset (after your franchise). Prohibit posting confidential or proprietary business information, especially information about customers.
- Social media postings are not places to trash competitors. Your employees should avoid discussions of competitors. If discussions arise about competitors, your employees should speak positively about your dealership and avoid discussing competitors.
- Employees must make sure they identify themselves. If the post relates to the dealership, the poster should identify himself or herself and his or her role at the dealership. When the person is speaking personally and not for the dealership, that should be clear.
Should we encourage employees to set up their own accounts on social media platforms? Absolutely not! When employees use their own social media accounts, you have no control. Your policy should clarify that any postings having anything to do with the dealership should be through dealership hosted or subscribed media platforms.
What about use of social media outside of work hours? Discourage that – strongly! Employees who use social media outside of work hours may contend they have been working and are entitled to be paid for that work. Your policy should clarify that, while employees can decide how to use their free time, the dealership discourages using social media related to work, and it is not a requirement of employees’ jobs.
What about posting pictures of happy customers? Dealerships often post pictures of satisfied customers taking delivery of their recently purchased vehicles. The policy should be clear that no pictures of customers may be posted unless the dealership has specific written permission of the customer to do so and management approves the posting.
What about using social media to counter unhappy customer postings? Social media platforms are a good way to encourage positive reviews. However, there is a great temptation as part of an online reputation enhancement campaign to flood social media, sometimes with false reviews. That is not a legitimate method of improving your dealership’s image, and can lead to a serious regulatory enforcement action, as a large dealer group learned two years ago when the FTC sued it for posting false positive reviews.
How do we monitor compliance with the policy? First, put someone in charge of reviewing the social media platforms you host or to which you subscribe to ensure that dealership employees are posting messages that comply with your requirements. It is time consuming, but it should be done. What is more difficult is monitoring social media use by employees using their own accounts. Since your policy should forbid use of personal accounts for business-related messages, compliance personnel should also generally review top social media platforms for references to your dealership. Finally, managers should know how customers say they have come to the dealership and where they saw the offers that brought them there to see if messages through personal accounts led to the visit.
What if I find violations of the policy? As in all policies, your social media policy is only as good as your willingness to enforce it. The policy itself should provide for the right of the dealership to take disciplinary actions for violations, including termination. Monitor activities and exercise those rights when your policy is violated.