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Social Media Policies for Agencies – a Pragmatic Consideration of the Legal Issues

Like all internet-based companies, digital agencies such as ours “get” social media. We see it as a key part of our marketing mix and we encourage all our clients to do likewise. All of our team are encouraged to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc during their working day, but should we insist they separate their work personas from their private ones?

The Old Bailey, east London

The way we all behave and act at work is guided by our company’s values, contracts and policies and, ultimately, Employment Law. In addition, all businesses should have a policy to cover social networking, setting out when social media can be used at work and defining employees’ responsibilities regarding the company’s reputation and intellectual property, both while they are at work and in their private lives.
Digital agencies, however, have a further problem in that employees use social media at work on behalf of both the company and, sometimes, its clients. Who “owns” these accounts, who is responsible for them, who has access to them and what happens when employees leave?

During the course of their employment, employees invest time in building up contacts and reputations on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and in their blogs. This is all good practice, fully encouraged by the business. But, while the company clearly owns any content created at work using a work persona – employees should not be using their home personas for company business – who owns the reputation or the contacts?

Can a company, for example, prevent a departing employee from taking their work-related Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections to their new job? Last year, albeit in a different field, Laura Kuessenberg left the BBC for ITV taking her 60,000 Twitter followers with her, simply by changing her name from @BBCLauraK to @ITVLauraK. There are currently a couple of high profile lawsuits in the states, including EdComm and Phone Dog, which are dealing with exactly these issues on LinkedIn and Twitter.

What if an employee defames or bullies someone on Facebook using a company or client’s persona? What are the respective roles of the company and the employee in resolving the dispute? How do you strike the right balance between protecting the company’s interests and allowing employees to use social media?

Some companies use a hybrid of work and personal personas, such as @company_john, but the ownership of these remains unclear, so SiteVisibility’s social media accounts are accessed by employees via profiles which are clearly owned by the company and for which the company is responsible.

In the light of the constantly changing social media environment, companies need to constantly update their policies to get the right mix of professionalism, creativity and protection for both the company and its employees. The key is to get everyone engaged in establishing social media policies and to make sure that all are well informed of their intent.

I’d be very interested to hear other views on what works for you.

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1 Comment
  • Mike Russell on July 19, 2012

    Interesting article Jason. Having worked in radio for many years and I can tell you that the subject of social media usage is always a hot topic. In many cases the radio presenters would promote their own Twitter accounts on air which I’ve always thought is a bad idea as, like you refer to in your post, if they leave they can change from @BBC to @ITV.

    Chris Moyles, having recently departed the Radio 1 breakfast show will take his millions of Twitter followers with him to wherever he may go next. Perhaps Radio 2 or, not so good for the BBC, to a commercial rival like Capital. All his influence will follow him to the next place he pops up on.

    I think it is best policy to simply promote the company social media accounts in email signatures, mail outs and in the media and have a policy in place to make sure that all interest in your brand is directed to the correct company accounts and not personal accounts.

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