Central Illinois Business Magazine

Archive                           July 2011


Social media can overthrow governments, so how can you control it in your workplace?

By Randall Green
CIB Contributor
Published: Jul. 2011

If you haven't noticed, social media is everywhere. Less than 10 short years ago, no one had ever written on a friend's Wall or Tweeted a random thought to thousands of friends and followers from the palm of their hand.

Since the social media revolution began less than a decade ago, some social sites have come and gone, but others have become economic and political forces that are impossible to ignore. With more than 500 million active users (U.S. population is approximately 310 million), Forbes placed Facebook's market value higher than Boeing, Target, Sony, Nike or any major automaker. Goldman Sachs recently purchased a 1 percent interest in Facebook for $500 million, which would seem to place Facebook's market value around $50 billion.

In addition to their economic impact, sites like Facebook and Twitter have played vital roles in overthrowing governments and have helped suppressed citizens revolts against their suppressors.

Even U of I's own Rashard Mendenhall has found himself in the social media spotlight, not for football, but as it relates to a series of Tweets he made in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden's death sparking political, social and religious debate. Whether you support Osama Bin Laden's death and how it occurred or not, it is only fitting in this day and age where everyone's voice can be heard by millions, that a Twitter user, Sohaib Athar, was the first to unknowingly report on the raid, Tweeting: "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," "A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad," and "I hope its not the start of something nasty," as reported by CNN and other media outlets.

Given the power that social media has wielded in recent months, you may be thinking "How can I protect my business from its wrath?" Or maybe you're asking "how can I use all that power to promote my business?" Either way, there are many considerations when trying to manage the use of social media in the workplace.

As you might suspect, the use of social media in the workplace can result in decreased productivity, but it can also pose the following risks that could result in legal action against your company:

• Disclosing of confidential information or trade secrets

• Criticizing, disparaging or harassing employers, co-workers, or clients

• Endorsing products or services without proper disclosure or

• Posting embarrassing videos or pictures involving the workplace

However, social media can be a great benefit to your company if used carefully. Its benefits include:

• Branding

• Client development and service

• Research

• Recruiting

• Improving employee engagement and

• Facilitating multi-office workplaces

To ensure your employees know what is and is not an acceptable use of social media in the workplace, your company should adopt a clear social media policy that is carefully drafted to minimize misuse and abuse of social media, while not being overly broad so as to infringe on an individual's rights of privacy and liberty.

Your inclination may be to restrict the use of social media as broadly as possible, but beware! Employees have the right under the National Labor Relations Act to concerted activity and to discuss their interests as employees. Employees' statements may also be protected by whistleblower statutes, state laws prohibiting interference with an employee's political activities or affiliations, or laws protecting employees' legal off-duty activities "lawful conduct" laws.

As an employer you must also be careful how you monitor the activities of your employees so as not to run afoul of tort laws protecting privacy rights or federal and state statutes such as the Federal Wiretap Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Illinois Eavesdropping Act, Illinois Law on Monitoring and Stored Communications Act.

A carefully drafted social media policy can allow your company to use the power of social media to its advantage while minimizing the risks to your bottom line.

Randy Green is an attorney at Meyer Capel in Champaign. He can be reached at Main: (217) 352-1800 or rgreen@meyercapel.com.

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