How to Prevent a Social Media Crisis

Guest post by corporate comms/social media advisor Eric Schwartzman.

This is a guest post by Eric Schwartzman, founder of Comply Socially and senior corporate communications adviser.

Technology advances faster than government can adapt, so laws that were enacted before social media existed often determine its lawful use.

Breaking those laws can cost employers hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars and obliterate brand equity…but most managers don’t even know that they exist.

  • Did you know employees have the right to bash their employer on social media, as long as they’re doing so to organize coworkers and bargain collectively to improve their working conditions? They can discuss wages, hours and working conditions whether the boss likes it or not.
  • Did you know that if employees tweet on behalf of their employer without disclosing their employee status, their employer can be fined up to $11,000 per incident?
  • Did you know it’s illegal to buy fake reviews on social networks and plenty of companies have been fined upwards of $250,000 for this sort of skullduggery?

schwartzman graphMost companies answer “no” to all of those questions–which is why sites like buyamazonreviews.com are flourishing and estimates put the number of fake reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor as high as 30 percent.

Welcome to the world of social media ethics, where the things that marketers and PR practitioners don’t know can put their clients out of business.

At one boutique PR firm, a staffer who was recovering after a car accident won an invasion of privacy suit against her employer for using her personal profile to author posts in her absence, even though she had given her boss her username and password.

The employee changed her mind. But since there was no written contract in place–and, technically speaking, her boss exceeded her authorized access–the PR shop was held liable.

Another former boutique PR firm employee filed a sexual harassment suit after being fired, claiming that it was because he failed to comply with a text message from his boss that asked, “When are we going to have our bang sesh?” The PR firm, again, was held responsible.

While 80% of employers have official social media policies, 70% have disciplined an employee for social media misuse. Still, less than one-third offer training on how to use social media responsibly, according to a report by a top employment law firm.

We all know no one reads corporate policies. As a benchmark of fine print consumption, consider that only two out of every 1000 users even opens the terms of use for a social network before accepting it, according to an NYU study.

Social media crisis prevention requires both policy and training. But even if your employee do what’s required by law, doesn’t mean they’ll do what they should.

Social Media Compliance Training

Pre-Facebook and Twitter (when external communications could be contained) official company spokespeople were media trained.

Today, when anyone can be seen as a representative of your organization, whether they’ve been given that authority or not, everyone needs social media compliance training.

Social media crisis prevention means training everyone in ethical, lawful social media use.

eric schwartzmanEric Schwartzman is a social media governance specialist and corporate communications adviser to multinationals, multilaterals, global nonprofits, the military, federal government agencies and foreign governments who enjoys mentoring other corporate communications professionals and learning new things.