Social Media for Business – Do’s and Dont’s if you have any staff

Author: Chang Han (Google+)
Did you know there are also stricter and stricter rules and regulations related to using social media?

Use it well, and be rewarded richly with great business – use it improperly and be punished with a bad reputation, negative brand, and even worse – fines and jail time!

How is that possible, you ask?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

Companies and small businesses are more and more often accessing social media sites to both find the right employee and assess job applicants as well as even monitor staff after they are hired.  After all, if you have someone speaking to your customers and representing you and your product or service to the public, you don’t want that person to have a facebook page that would shock older customers and potentially be harmful to young children!

However, using Social Media has every increasing risks due to the rapidly changing use of social media, which drives the rapidly changing and increasing laws and regulations regarding it.  These regulations don’t have to be local and specific to our province to apply to you – those regulations in other provinces and in the federal regime, and also – believe it or not – those in the U.S. are becoming more and more intrusive on you and your use of social media in a business context.

Put it this way: the line between social media for private, non-commercial purposes and for business purposes is fuzzy.  And it gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Recently, there was quite a hububaloo (is that a real word?) about companies insisting that employees and job applicants provide their social media account passwords.  No kidding.  This was the only way a company could go check someone’s social media account and look at even those private features shared only with existing family or friends or contacts.   From a business-owner’s perspective, you had to do this: many of the best people for sales or marketing already have a huge network and their private features are shared with hundreds, or thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people (in the case of Twitter).  Often, it is this very fact of having a large network that makes the person an ideal candidate to help you and your business!

If that person was working for you, what are they saying about your business just by posting their own personal facebook posts to their own personal facebook account, especially when you are a small business and you share a lot of contacts?  What if this person doesn’t make a clear distinction between their work and their personal lives – what if these posts are seen by thousands of people?  You can see why having social media passwords could be considered crucial – especially if you understand the importance of branding and reputation.

However, the backlash to the business push for social media account passwords was intense.  It raised some public awareness about the importance of social media in business, and also provided ample fodder for a big policy push.  Who doesn’t want a popular new legal area as part of their political platform, after all?

Where am I going with all this?

You may have gathered that I can be a little long-winded at times.

Here’s my point.  There are 3 essential areas that you want to look at when you are thinking of maximizing your leverage of social media – including using social media via your employees and contractors – where you want to both tread carefully as well as have an open and honest conversation about with the people you work with.  Here they are:

1. Privacy Laws

Many jurisdictions have now enacted legislation prohibiting a business requesting personal passwords.  Don’t do it.  BUT – beware.  If your employee or contractor is using personal accounts in order to help your business – i.e., their gmail, their facebook, or their twitter, etc. – then you MAY not have any access to that information.  Don’t risk your essential business information, including customer leads, client information, marketing and promotional material and campaigns.  Have a clear written agreement that covers each aspect, and HAVE THAT CONVERSATION I mentioned above.

2. Labour Relations

Be cognizant that your application of any social media related rules, policies or even what you might consider your own ‘preferences’ could easily be seen as a potential unfair labour practice violation.  This area doesn’t apply to you unless you have staff ‘on your books’ – but if you do, you better know the basics so you don’t have a claim filed against you!

3. Discrimination

Social media deals with personal information, such as age, race, disabilities, etc.  Any of these areas of ripe for discrimination claims if they are perceived to be the basis for a reduction in pay, lost project or contract work, or other negative result suffered by your employee or your contractor.  As a result, if someone you pay merely believes that they are being treated differently and they have a reasonable connection between your actions or words to their social media information with their personal information – such as the above -referenced type that you are not allowed to discriminate against for – watch out!

These risks merely mean that social media should not be taken lightly.  It is a very powerful tool – and as they said in Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.”  (or was that Superman?)

Be responsible.

And win in your business!

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