In brief - Employers warned to watch out for unauthorised use of company social networking accounts

Increased use of social networking sites in the workplace requires employers to implement strategies to prevent the misuse of such sites by employees. Problems can arise when employees turn rogue, using the very tool companies are trying to utilise for marketing purposes as a weapon against them.

Corporations increasingly using social media to promote their brand

Companies are jumping on board the social media bandwagon in order to promote awareness of their brand and engage with their customers. Social networking sites play an important role in allowing businesses to market to a broader audience.

With an enhanced ability to reach out to thousands of consumers, however, come increased risks. Companies need to ensure that social media channels such as Twitter are taken seriously by ensuring that appropriate protocols are in place for their use.

Keyboard revolt: Twitter disaster unleashed when HMV sacks staff

On 31 January 2013 British company HMV discovered the backlash an angry employee could cause on Twitter.

"Mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand" was posted on the company's official HMV Twitter feed along with comments such as "There are over 60 of us being fired at once!" and "Under contract, we've been unable to say a word - or more importantly - tell the truth".

These tweets were posted by a disgruntled employee whose position had been made redundant by the company. The unflattering comments were deleted within minutes of being posted and the account was allegedly closed within half an hour of the cyber mishap. By that stage, however, some of HMV's thousands of Twitter followers had already taken screen shots of the Tweets and disseminated them further.

Twitter mishaps lead to corporate embarrassment and apologies

Earlier in 2010 Vodafone UK experienced an unwelcome post expressed via their official Twitter account which made inappropriate references to homosexuals and women. In early 2011 Chrysler's account was recorded as posting "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive".

Perhaps most memorable was the online criticism recorded on American company Kitchenaid's Twitter account during the October 2012 American presidential campaign.

In that case a disgruntled employee took to the company's page to post a disparaging remark regarding Barack Obama and the death of his grandmother: "Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! 'She died 3 days b4 he became president.'"

In all instances the inappropriate comments were deleted promptly and followed up by an apologetic statement from the company in question addressing the issue. Unfortunately for those companies, however, by that time their social media misadventures had already become mainstream news stories.

Regardless of what approach is taken by employers in response to a social media mishap, the damage is generally already done once unauthorised social media posts appear on the internet to be received by millions within seconds.

Social media should be taken seriously and accounts supervised by management

To limit potential misuse of your company's social networking accounts, we recommend the following steps:

  • Ensure that all social media networking accounts are monitored.
  • Limit the number of employees who have access to the company's social networking accounts.
  • If employees are required to use the company's account, it is recommended that the process be supervised by management. The password for the account should be updated regularly and all email notifications should be sent to someone in a position of authority.
  • Limit the number of joint/multiple accounts associated with the official company account to avoid instances of accidental publishing in the wrong account.
  • Ensure a stringent internet usage policy is in place with provisions dealing specifically with social networking. This policy should be read and understood by all staff with access to the account.
  • The social networking policy should be reviewed regularly to ensure compliance. Training sessions should be conducted with employees prior to their use of the company's social networking accounts.
  • If practical, it is recommended that posts are signed off by someone with authority before they are posted on the company's social page and/or account.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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