Australia: Benefits and pitfalls of social media for your business - do you have all the right policies in place?

Last Updated: 12 November 2010
Article by Matthew Hall

In brief - Increasing use of social media

Social media is being used increasingly, not only by individuals personally, but also by people who wish to promote their businesses and themselves in a professional or business capacity. Social media can be a powerful tool for achieving these ends.

Difficulty of corporate control over social media

The level of control that businesses have traditionally been able to exercise on the public statements that they make and on the image that they project to the public has the potential of all but disappearing in the "always on" social networking age. With the increased use of social media and the sharp decline in corporate control come increased risks for business. These risks include liability for what may be posted or disclosed on a social networking site and possible reputational damage.

Any business that wants to reap the full benefits of social media needs to ensure that the business is properly protected and that the risks are minimised. This can be a delicate balancing act, given that the type of control traditionally exercised is the antithesis of user generated content and of communications that are "one to many" in the social networking environment.

Employers and social media

Employers need to know what their rights are in controlling and monitoring their employees' electronic communications, including their use of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Every employer also needs to be aware of its rights and remedies if an employee makes inappropriate use of social media, such as posting a defamatory comment or disclosing confidential information about the employer's business or clients.

No secrets on the internet

Employers are not excluded from viewing publicly available information that can be found through search engines, such as Google, or social media networking sites. This means employees need to be aware that publishing information or images in the public domain may result in those employees intentionally or unintentionally expressing information about, or to, their employer. Employees also need to understand that there is a very real and important difference between personal communications and private communications. Once a communication is made in a social networking environment, there is no guarantee that it will remain private. The crucial point that employees need to grasp is that anything which is posted online cannot be recalled. Once information is online, it can be impossible control who views it and disseminates it further.

Information collection and privacy

Employers need to be aware that there are certain restrictions under the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 that prohibit the unauthorised collection of personal information. Whilst there are exemptions in relation to "employee information", information that an employee posts in a personal capacity may not fall within this exemption.

Employers need to take care when collecting or making use of that information not to breach their obligations to their employees (or to anyone else) in relation to privacy. Every business must have a privacy policy that includes what information the employer may collect and use, including information in the digital domain and information that may be posted by employees in a non work related capacity.

Monitoring of employees' online activity

In some cases, employees have been caught attempting to claim sick leave from an employer in circumstances where their communications on social media networks prove that they are not genuinely ill. (See the October 2008 article Sickie faker busted by Facebook.)

An employer is not necessarily prohibited from monitoring an employee's email or online activity at work to determine the employee's activities, productivity, the extent to which the employee may be distributing confidential information or any inappropriate conduct towards other employees or members of the public. However, in NSW any monitoring of the conduct of an employee, including use of a social network, the internet or email must be in accordance with an appropriate surveillance or monitoring policy that complies with the NSW Workplace Surveillance Act. Every business needs to be able to demonstrate that it has such a policy and that every employee is aware of it and understands it.

Educating staff about social media

Many businesses are now providing guidance to their staff on the appropriate uses of social media to ensure that the conduct of employees is appropriate. The aim is to minimise any risks that the business could be exposed to as a result of something that an employee posts online, whether in a personal capacity or otherwise. All staff must understand that they have a responsibility to avoid exposing the business to any liability or to the risk of reputational damage.

We have recently assisted many clients with their plans to implement compliant risk management solutions which provide constructive guidance to employees on appropriate ways to behave and which identify and manage the risks that a business may face as a result of encouraging its staff to promote themselves and the business through social networking. Companies which take a prudent approach to managing online risk stand to reap significant rewards from social media.

Practical advice for employers

  • Ensure your company has appropriate and up-to-date policies which deal with privacy and with the use and monitoring of email, the internet and social media
  • Ensure that on commencement of employment, and regularly during employment, every employee receives training in, and acknowledges in writing that they understand and agree to comply with, these policies and they understand that they may be dismissed for contravening them
  • Educate your staff on the appropriate use of social media; this education should be mandatory for current staff and form part of the induction process for all new employees
  • In particular, make sure employees understand that their online postings can be disseminated by others and that there is a difference between what they post online in an individual capacity and what they post as employees of the company

Swaab Attorneys was the highest ranking law firm and the 13th best place to work in Australia in the 2010 Business Review Weekly Best Places to Work Awards. The firm was a finalist in the 2010 BRW Client Choice Awards for client service and was named the winner in the 2009 Australasian Legal Business Employer of Choice Awards.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.