Social media – An effective but risky marketing tool

Social media – An effective but risky marketing tool
11 Jan 2016

Social media is a web based medium which allows users to generate and share content.  It is a blend of technology and social interaction. Users can create content and interact with other individuals and organisations. Social media can be found in various forms, such as microblogs (e.g. Twitter), content sharing sites (e.g. YouTube), social networks (e.g. Facebook) and collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia).

Social media is pervading not only our personal lives, but also business and the workplace. It is so popular because it is instant, frequently updated and current. The smart phone has made the use of social media even easier, with a variety of applications enabling easy access and use.

This powerful and popular tool does not come without risks. It has the potential to cause significant damage to the reputation of both individuals and organisations. Employees can make defamatory statements or inadvertently leak confidential information by indiscriminately posting content.  The use of social media can also lead to security threats and one regularly hears of the hacking of social media accounts. It is very easy for users to post material online by way of social media. This can often lead to intellectual property issues, such as copyright infringement and the unauthorised use of trade marks. In the workplace, the use of social media can also lead to harassment and discrimination.

Organisations need to consider how social media is used in the workplace. May employees use social media while they are working and can they use the employer’s equipment? Some organisations allow employees to use social media for work purposes, but this is often not regulated.  Some employees even manage their employer’s social media accounts. When a dispute arises, or if the employee’s employment is terminated, this can lead to significant issues such as the employer being locked out of its own social media account or the former employee posting malicious statements online. 

In order to create clarity and to set specific parameters, employers are increasingly drafting and publishing social media policies.  These policies regulate the use of social media in the workplace and contain specific guidelines for its use. They normally point out risks associated with social media and list prohibited practices. Some organisations even have social media disaster management plans in place. These plans set out the steps to be followed if the organisation’s social media account is hacked or if someone has posted objectionable comments using the organisation’s account.

If it is used effectively, social media can benefit an organisation. However, it also has the potential to do significant harm. As such, this tool needs to be managed and all organisations should consider adopting appropriate policies.  his should be coupled with broader IT and e-mail usage policies, which organisations should already have in place.

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)