Getting into Hot Water with Social Media

Freedom of speech has long been embraced by society, but are we really free to say exactly what we think without fear of repercussions?How to use social media safely

A short while ago, I wrote a post called Social Media – Why You Should Watch What You Say, in which I talked about how employers use social media to screen job applicants.

But it’s not just your potential working life that could be affected by your tweets and Facebook status updates (or those unfortunate photos taken of you on a big night out), you could also jeopardise your career.

The Drum recently reported on such a case where a council press officer was forced to quit his job after an ill-judged tweet.

Working for Lambeth Council, the press officer in question tweeted, from his own personal account, that “Having spent a considerable amount of time in Streatham, my solutions for supporting the High Road mostly involve napalm.”

Needless to say, his tweet was met with several complaints and, despite an apology, he quit his job.

But was that right? Should he have had to quit his job over tongue-in-cheek comments made on his personal social media account?

And there lies the very murky grey area. Had that comment been made through his official work account, no one would question the outcome. But as it came from a personal account, does that make it any less offensive?

Understanding the power of social media

The news is full of instances where people use social media in naïve ways. Whether it’s something like the case above, or the more serious and malicious practice of ‘trolling’ (the posting of inflammatory messages online with the main aim of provoking readers into an emotional response or otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion – Wikipedia), the use of social media can land people in hot water.

A recent case of trolling was highlighted following a landmark High Court ruling. When a lady from Brighton posted a supportive comment for X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza, trolls ‘left comments falsely accusing [her] of being a paedophile and drug dealer for supporting the singer…’ (The Drum).

The High Court ruled that Facebook had to reveal the identities of the cyberbullies (their names and IP addresses) so civil actions could be pursued again the ‘trolls’.

Do your employees understand your social media policy?

With social media becoming a powerful business tool as well as a social communication tool, it is essential your employees fully understand your social media policy to prevent these types of instances happening.

Your businesses social media usage should concentrate fully on engaging with your customers and adding value to your relationships with them, therefore it is essential your employees fully understand what is expected of them.

  • Make sure you list what they can do.
  • Ensure they fully appreciate that they are responsible for what they write (whether it’s on behalf of your company or on their private accounts).
  • Encourage them to engage with customers using their name and title so the customer knows who they are talking to.
  • Make sure they think carefully before posting – it’s Ok to offer opinions, but they must consider how their comments will be viewed by others. After all, what they say (whether using social media during work hours or in their personal time) will reflect not only on them personally, but also as an employee and on the company.
  • Ensure they understand what information is confidential and that should not be shared at any time.
  • They should bring value to your company through their engagement.

Over to you

What are your thoughts on social media usage?

Do you agree that the council press officer should have lost his job?

What policies do you have in place to ensure your employees don’t overstep the mark?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and opinions.

Sally Ormond – Copywriter

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