Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are increasingly utilised by businesses worldwide for the significant benefits they can provide. Use of social media by your business, employees and clients can also involve risks, which your business should be prepared for. In this article, we will discuss the importance of implementing a social media policy for your business.

How is social media relevant to your business?

When used effectively, social media can be used to:

  • develop your brand;
  • promote goods and services;
  • engage with clients and strategic partners;
  • market competitions and promotions;
  • recruit staff;
  • share business news and information; and
  • increase your search engine visibility.

In fact, social media is now becoming so entrenched in our daily lives that, even if your business has no official social media presence, the online activities of your employees and clients can create a presence.

What are the risks of social media exposure in business?

Although you or your employees may believe you are posting content in a private environment, privacy should never be assumed on social media as reposting, retweeting, sharing and screenshotting gives all online material the potential to be viewed by third parties in a public forum.

Irresponsible use of social media can lead to:

  • the release of confidential business information;
  • cyber bullying against other employees or even clients;
  • business reputation damage; and
  • liability for other legal action, for example, for defamation or breach of copyright.

The Privacy Act and the Australian Privacy Principles should also be considered when dealing with social media, for example:

  • If your business collects personal information from customers for a competition via social media, generally that personal information must only be used by your business in relation to the competition or for another purpose that the individual has consented to. See our PAW Day 1 article on the collection of personal information.
  • If you direct market to individuals over social media (by tagging users in posts in cases where the user's personal information is available to see), you will have to allow individuals the option to opt out of further direct marketing. See our PAW Day 2 article on direct marketing.

Clearly, unrestricted social media usage can have serious consequences for your business, your employees and the relationships you have built with existing (and potential) clients and business partners. To mitigate these risks it is important for you to develop a comprehensive social media policy for your business.

How can a social media policy protect against the risks of negative social media usage?

A social media policy will provide your employees with clear guidelines as to acceptable and unacceptable uses of personal and business-related social media. The implementation of a well-drafted social media policy will allow your business to utilise social media in a positive way, while simultaneously outlining remedies for social media related harm.

When preparing a social media policy, you should consider the following:

  • Ensure that the policy covers the use of all social media tools in a variety of situations. These should include the use of social media in an official capacity representing your business, and your employees' personal use of social media (where such use can be linked back to your business).
  • Clearly specify the standard of behaviour expected of your employees on social media without unduly restricting your employee's right to use social media. Your social media policy should be fair and balanced.
  • The policy will be more likely to be adopted and adhered to if you educate your employees about the policy and make sure that the policy is readily available to them. Provide social media training to clarify your expectations and give your employees the opportunity to raise any concerns they may have.

Privacy awareness week

This article is part of our series on handling personal information as part of Privacy Awareness Week. As an official partner of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner's privacy awareness campaign, Cooper Grace Ward will be publishing a series of articles that relate to:

  • how your business can collect personal information;
  • how your business can engage in direct marketing;
  • how your business should handle requests to access and correct personal information;
  • the importance of a social media policy; and
  • how your business can organise internal privacy awareness and training.

Winner – EOWA Employer of Choice for Women Citation 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012
Winner – ALB Gold Employer of Choice 2011 and 2012
Finalist – ALB Australasian Law Awards 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (Best Brisbane Firm)
Winner – BRW Client Choice Awards 2009 and 2010 - Best Australian Law Firm (revenue less than $50m)

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.