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Be Social Media Savvy

Be Social Media Savvy

Social media can be a useful marketing and networking tool when used correctly. Yet for employers, the misuse of social media by employees, during the working day or outside of it, can result in serious consequences.

Rail firm London Midland, has recently been forced to apologise following comments posted on its Twitter account by a member of staff after a suspected suicide at a Birmingham railway station. Network Rail and mental health charities publicly expressed their concern at the comments.

Tom Long, senior associate in the Employment team at SGH Martineau explains what employers can do to protect themselves from any risk:

In the London Midland case, a member of staff, having been asked by a stranger about likely delays, tweeted: “Go to the pub – things will be rubbish for at least the next hour.” When another commuter asked if the victim was OK, the staff member replied “nope” and then tweeted to another user: “Can’t stop someone jumping off a platform in front of a train I’m afraid.

Whilst these comments could be deemed relatively harmless had the member of staff been talking to just the person who asked the question, when posted onto an open and public platform, they become more than just that person's opinion. This person becomes a company representative and negative comments are left wide open to criticism from all corners of the social sphere.

This case alone demonstrates the detrimental effect that unsupervised use of social media can have on a company’s brand.

Whilst you cannot completely control what an employee might say on social media, there are certainly ways you can limit the risks.

First of all, a clear, well-drafted communications policy is essential to any business and this should be actively communicated to all staff. With social media an increasingly popular, and in that potentially troublesome medium for communication, it is important that any existing communications policy be updated to include specific guidelines on it, otherwise you are not necessarily covered.

Employers should ensure that employees are monitored in their use of social media and internet sites and that appropriate supervision is given where social media are used in a work context. This doesn't mean having a right to delve into all of their personal accounts and question their behavior outside of, and unrelated to work, but it does mean being aware of when the business might be mentioned, or whether their actions can be directly related back to your business in a negative light.

Staff should receive training on what is and is not appropriate; as much as many people think they know what they are doing, they may not realise the impact one seemingly innocent comment can have. We have all come across an instance where a person's comment has been misconstrued in conversation or over text for example. Imagine the potential for that comment to be misconstrued hundreds or thousands of times over, and you begin to see the problems that may arise.

Employers may also wish to consider including in employees’ contracts or within the disciplinary procedures a clause highlighting that it is gross misconduct to bring the employer into disrepute. Laying out the company's rules on social media usage in an employee's contract gives you the power to take any necessary action should a situation arise from the upstart.


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