Home / Blogs / Social Media – Friend or Foe?

Social Media – Friend or Foe?

Marketing Analysis Accounting Team Teamwork Business Meeting Concept

Social media is now a part of everyday life, both for businesses and individuals.  It is estimated that on average people have five social media accounts and spend one and a half hours per day browsing their accounts. The impact of staff being distracted by constantly viewing and updating their social mobile accounts or surfing the web, is now becoming a real issue in the workplace with over 30% of employees recently surveyed admitted that they were distracted by accessing social media and using mobiles at work. This loss of productivity can have a major financial impact on businesses and is said to cost UK businesses billions of pounds each year.

Businesses spend a great deal of money on brand image and fiercely protect their image. Reckless and inappropriate comments can be negative and instantly damage the public perception of a company.

You only just need to look at the dramatic fall in share price and damage to its reputation, which rapidly spread across all forms off media, when United Airlines was filmed on smart phones trying to disembark a passenger from one of their flights. The use of social media meant that this very dramatic incident was soon flashed around the world and generated worldwide condemnation.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the incident in question, what it did demonstrate, is the power and immediacy of social media to generate a negative perception of a company, who were powerless to control the spread and content across all social media platforms.

On the other hand a positive social media posting can greatly enhance a business’s reputation, as was the case when an employee’s random act of kindness went viral. An employee of Enterprise Rent-A-Car helped a customer with twins after she was involved in a hit and run incident. He held one of the twins whilst the customer completed some forms, as she did not have a double pram.

The customer was so impressed by this act of kindness and support, that she posted the incident online, stating that the employee was one of the most compassionate and caring people she had ever met and hoped that he received the recognition that he deserved. In response to her posting the Company bought the customer a double seater pram for her twins. They also confirmed that they would also be recognising the employee’s act of kindness.

There have also been instances where employees have tweeted their way to dismissal.  Imagine the scene where a disgruntled aggrieved employee takes to social media to vent about a bad day at work and a series of offensive comments regarding the employer (and certain colleagues) ensues.  Three years after the incident, the employer discovered the comments he had posted on his Twitter account and dismissed the employee for gross misconduct, in line with their disciplinary policy.  Of course, the employee brought a claim for unfair dismissal arguing that his tweets were private and posted some three years previously.   A tribunal did not find in favour of the employee and accepted that the dismissal was within the range of reasonable responses open to his employer given the circumstances.  The tribunal judge stressed that these comments were visible to anyone and, once in the public domain, they would be there forever.

A negative comment about an employer posted on social media, even if it was posted some time ago (and in some cases years) can have the same negative impact on an employer’s reputation as if it was posted today.

The future impact on an organisation of negative social media is important, particularly as most people entering into a new business relationship will first and foremost search the internet for social media postings, recommendations and reviews.

So what practical steps can you take to ensure that you protect your business?

  • Ensure that you have a clear social media policy outlining what you consider specifically to be gross misconduct.  For example, this could be bringing the company’s name into disrepute or, perhaps bullying other employees.
  • Remind employees on a regular basis of your expectations regarding their social media activities and remind them of your social media policy. 
  • Remind employees to consider the content of their postings before posting it onto social media and to consider what effect it could have on the company.   Remind employees that, once it is out there – there is no erasing it.
  • Be clear to employees what the consequences will be should you come across negative comments made on social media, regardless of whether it is on their private or work social media accounts.
  • Ensure that any decisions made regarding inappropriate activity on social media are well documented, with clear reasons for your decision.

A social media policy enables you to set out the rules governing internet use in the workplace and will allow you to:

  • Control the use of smart phones in the workplace from which social media is accessible. Some companies prohibit the use of mobile phone during working hours.
  • Require staff to avoid making any social media communications that could damage your business interests or reputation, even indirectly.
  • Prohibit personal use of social media during working hours or by means of using your business computers, networks or other IT resources and communication systems.
  • Curtail unprofessional or inappropriate content to ensure that it does not interfere with an employee’s employment responsibilities or productivity.
  • Protect the unauthorised online disclosure of business and confidential information
  • Highlight the consequences of anyone using social media to post defamatory or disparaging comments against the Company, fellow employees, clients or other third parties.
  • Reserve the right to monitor, intercept and review activities which are accessed using your IT and communications systems.
  • Prohibit the use of social media to defame or disparage your business, your staff or any third party; to harass, bully or unlawfully discriminate against staff or third parties; to make false or misleading statements; or to impersonate colleagues or third parties.
  • Provide employees with guidelines on the responsible use of social media.
  • Reinforce their obligations to fully comply with all of your Data Protection requirements.
  • Allow you to inform your employees that any breaches of your social media policy or other IT related policies, may result in disciplinary action being taken and that this could include the termination of employment.

As a client of HR:4UK, we can ensure that you have a policy in place which minimises the risk to your business through the use of social media.  If you do not have such a policy in place or wish to upgrade your service to include this policy, please call us on 01455 444222 or fill in our contact form.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.