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10 Jun 2014
That is the question! I do wonder whether Mr Shakespeare himself would consider the art of Tweeting or blogging, a tragic comedy or the literary apocalypse of the 21st Century. Whether you are an avid tweeter and blogger, or choose to live in blissful ignorance, there is no doubt that social networking sites have become a media phenomenon. But at just 140 characters per ‘tweet’ just how much can be said? And who actually cares about what Sir Alan Sugar or other popular celebrities ate for their breakfast? Well according to recent statistics there are now an estimated 200 million users on Twitter, generating approximately 65 million tweets per day, with Linkedin estimated to have more than 100 million users.
Many organisations are jumping on the social media bandwagon, and actively encourage their clients, to ‘follow us on Twitter’. If policed correctly, the use of popular social media websites can be an invaluable and often free way to promote your business. It can also help your business to reach new audiences beyond those you could normally target, as well as convincing your kids that you are in fact I.T savvy, and not a dinosaur.
It all sounds great, but the social media revolution can have a very negative impact if not controlled properly. From a legal view point, social media exchanges, whether by tweeting, the use of LinkedIn, blogging or Facebook, to mention but a few, can cause a major headache for businesses and employers generally. Derogatory comments can have a damaging effect on your good business reputation. Disgruntled employees often use Facebook as a means of airing their discontent for someone or something at work. Confidential information can often inadvertently be posted, whilst ex employees may use business media profiles to solicit clients and potentially get around restrictive covenants. Many organisations have harassment policies, but do they cover cyber bullying? And then of course there are the hours of lost production whilst employees check out their status during work hours, not to mention the embarrassing photographs of the Christmas party, posted in full Technicolor for all to see.
Whilst we all need to move with the times, it is essential that Businesses do not forget to update and introduce policies in the stampede. Your policies must make it abundantly clear, what is, and more particularly, is not, acceptable on social networking sites. These policies need to strike an often delicate balance between protecting business interests and reputations, whilst not infringing on an employees freedom of expression and right to private life. Employees should be made aware that they may face disciplinary sanctions, which could include dismissal, if they commit a breach, and what would constitute a breach. It is also important that employers educate their staff, so they are fully aware of your policy.
Finally, spare a thought for Mr Leigh Van Bryan, a holiday maker who before his holiday to Los Angeles wrote on his Twitter page that he was going to ‘destroy America’. Unfortunately for Mr Bryan, the comments were picked up by American security authorities, who duly refused him entry to the US. In an article on the BBC Technology news page it stated that Mr Bryan was simply referring to having a good time. A sobering story, and while this concerned an individuals’ ‘tweet’, it serves as a classic example as to why businesses need to put into place clear and concise measures and policies to control this increasingly popular means of modern communication.
Harding Evans is a trading name of Harding Evans LLP, a limited liability partnership, registered in England & Wales (registered number: OC311802), authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA number: 419663).