The law is beginning to catch up with business use of social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. Your business can use social media to its advantage, but you should take precautions.
Be Careful with What You Post
More and more businesses are establishing their own social media pages and posting comments on the social media pages of others. This can be a great way to increase business and reach potential customers. But the same rules that apply to traditional print communications also apply to electronic communications. You usually can't post pictures of your customers, or even your employees, without getting their permission first. You can't post copyrighted material. You can't commit libel. If you're unsure, talk with a lawyer before you post anything that might cause your business problems.
Create a Social Media Policy
As lawsuits increase, more and more business owners are establishing social media policies to protect themselves. It's important to post your policy or distribute it in written form to your employees. Tell them what they can and cannot say about your company on the company's or their social media pages. If you state in your policy that an employee can be fired for engaging in this kind of activity, and if the employee does it anyway, you're typically within your rights to fire the employee. This can help you protect business secrets and sensitive information that you don't want made available to the public.
Social Media Should Not Affect Hiring
It may be tempting to use social media to learn a little more about an individual you're thinking of hiring. However, you typically can't base your hiring decision on what you discover. It's against federal law to decline to hire someone because of age, marital status, or religious preference. You can disapprove of drinking, but you usually can't refuse to hire someone because the person drinks alcohol on his personal time. If you discover these things because you viewed an employee's social media postings, it may be difficult or impossible for you not to let them influence your decision.
Federal Law Protects Employees' Rights to Organize
If an employee posts something negative about you or your company, you are sometimes prevented from taking disciplinary action. If your employee uses social media to complain about conditions at work and tries to organize co-workers to improve those conditions, federal law protects this right. If you fire an employee who posts a negative opinion of you, this is usually legal. But that might not stop your employee from contacting the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), triggering an investigation into your business.
A Business Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding business use of social media use is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a business lawyer.