Current studies show that people spend an average of 2–3 hours a day on social media and social networking. Companies want to keep up, but they might be walking into peril without even knowing it.
By Guest Columnist Jacob M. Monty
Monty is managing partner of the law firm Monty & Ramirez LLP in Houston. He is a member of the Employers Counsel Network, the group of well-connected, experienced employment law attorneys from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada who write BLR’s state Employment Law Letters.
How Can Social Media Help Your Business?
Social media is widely used and can greatly help your business reach more customers as well as more job applicants. With social media you can easily promote your products and engage your customers. For example, individuals are more likely to purchase a product that their friend has posted about online, and this is free marketing for your company. Social media also gives your company the ability to communicate with a mass group of consumers with one tweet, post, or video. It is also much easier to reach potential applicants as they are spending hours a day on social media.
How Can Social Media Harm Your Business?
However, there are potential pitfalls for your company that come along with having social media accounts. The company is responsible for what is posted to its accounts, so potential liability comes with social media accounts and that’s to say nothing of the possibility for bad press.
Two examples: In 2012, KitchenAid® accidentally tweeted an offensive tweet regarding President Obama’s grandmother’s passing in 2008. In 2011, the Chrysler® twitter account used profanity in a tweet regarding people’s inability to drive in Detroit, the Motor City. In fact, it’s probably not an overstatement to suggest that most users of social media have accidently sent something they wish they hadn’t.
These mistakes are easily made and normally done accidently when someone believes he or she is posting to a personal account. But, nevertheless, whatever was posted or mailed or tweeted is “out there,” and you have to deal with it.
How Can I Mitigate This Harm?
The best way to mitigate any potential harm to your company is to make sure you know—and trust—the person who is running your social media campaign. In addition, the company must have policies in place for what can and cannot be said via the company’s account and who has access to the passwords and user names. The person running the account should monitor what goes out to make sure it is acceptable. It is also important for whomever is running the account to be sure that tweets and e-mails are honest about the products or services your company offers.
Vetting Applicants Via Social Media Footprint
If your company decides to research applicant’s social media accounts before hiring them, make sure that you are consistent across the board, that is, you do similar searches for all candidates. Best practice is to have an interview with the potential candidate before looking into his or her social media accounts. This is similar to “ban the box,” which is a movement to keep employers from asking about a criminal record until after an interview. Use the same methodology with vetting applicants; interview them before checking their social media. Once the company has reviewed social media content, they have knowledge of the applicant’s protected characteristics, which could be used against them in a discrimination lawsuit.
Depending on what state you live in, you can require that your employees give you their user names and passwords to social media accounts, although this probably is not best practice. There are 23 states in the United States that have a state law prohibiting employers from asking for that information.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, Monty reports on video and Skype® interviews.