14 December 2011
Joydeep Hor, Managing Principal
The following article is a modified version of a media release issued by PCS on 30 November 2011.
With end-of-year functions in full swing, employers must be mindful of the significant but as yet little understood dangers presented by social media.
Employees are often unaware of the extent to which their interactions on social media can damage their employer’s brand and result in legal ramifications, whether it is at work, at a staff Christmas event, or even in their own time (such as after-parties).
Employers must realise that the biggest reputational risks social media presents their businesses are not associated with ‘where’ or ‘how’ employees interact. Rather, it is with whom they are sharing those interactions. Essentially, the ramifications of what happens within the confines of staff events, such as Christmas parties, are not limited to who is attending.
By way of example, former Canberra Raiders NRL star Joel Monaghan was recently forced to resign from the team within 48 hours of lewd pictures of him taken at a team end-of-year celebration being released into the public domain on Twitter.
Given the increased connectivity social media provides between fellow employees, friends and even strangers, anything posted online, regardless of it being posted at a work event or using work hardware (such as Blackberries or iPhones), is accessible by anyone else on social media.
Corporate brand damage arising from social media is most commonly associated with disparaging comments, photos, videos or blogs published by an employee, or the disclosure of confidential information or trade secrets. Contemporaneous photos posted via social media sites may also become relevant evidence in court cases that address behaviours that have transpired at these events.
Another example is Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice who lost at least one sponsorship deal and may have suffered irreparable damage to her reputation following a controversial ‘tweet’ which was derogatory to homosexuals.
Ultimately, employees are accountable for ‘private’ Facebook or Twitter comments made in their own time, especially when the comments refer directly to the employer, or where the employer may be held liable for offensive comments.
PCS recommends employers assess the ways that their staff use social media and review social media policies currently in place and, in particular, how broadly these policies extend.
A thorough social media policy is a ‘must-have’ for all organisations and should be regularly updated so it remains relevant as it is an area which is constantly evolving. Staff should also receive training about the policy.