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Protect your business from the risks posed by social media

The use of social media over the last decade has exploded, providing businesses with an exciting new frontier to reach out to a huge audience of potential customers whilst establishing brand awareness.

It was reported that by the end of 2013, Facebook had 1.23 billion monthly active users, with half of Facebook users having more than 200 friends (Facebook Newsroom & Pew Research Centre Survey). Twitter currently has 255 million users, with more then 500 million tweets being sent a day (https://about.twitter.com/company) and LinkedIn has more than 300 million members, with professionals joining at a rate of more than 2 new members per second (press.linkedin.com/about). It is clear that these social networking forums provide businesses with a huge opportunity to engage with individuals without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money on advertising space.

However, whilst social media clearly provides huge advantages, it does come with its own unique set of pitfalls and risks. So what can employers do to protect against some of these risks?

1. Damage to reputation

On Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, employees have the opportunity to state who their employer is and even link to their employer's page. As a result, even if an employee makes derogatory comments that do not name their employer, their friends/connections can easily make the link themselves.

There have been numerous cases, involving huge corporations like Apple, where employees on social media have made derogatory remarks about working conditions or products. In many cases the employer has been able to fairly dismiss the employee for their inappropriate use of social media; however, often by this stage the damage has already been done.

Don't wait for the situation to happen - put a social media policy in place now.

2. Bullying and harassment

Social media also provides a medium for cyber-bullying and harassment. You could be opened up to the possibility of a claim by an employee for offensive comments made by another employee, if it was done during the course of their employment.

You should make sure that you take an employee's allegations of cyber-bullying and harassment seriously, otherwise it may result in a claim being issued against your business.

What can businesses do to protect against the risks?

You should implement a robust social media policy and train your employees about the implications if they misuse social media either whilst at work or in their personal time which implicates the business, i.e. commenting about the business or its employees.

Not only will a robust policy and training protect against abuse of social media by employees, it will also be key during any disciplinary process or dismissal because a clear procedure is in place.

If you need any assistance drafting a social media policy please contact s.moore@ashfords.co.uk

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