in Business Law

The positives and pitfalls of social media- what this means for your business

With the increasing proliferation of the next-generation web in people’s online conduct, no medium has enjoyed such an explosion in popularity as social media technology. In this edition, we will take a closer look at the potential benefits and pitfalls of the use of social networking technology.

What is social media?

Social media is the use of inexpensive web based technologies that allow users to generate their own content and disseminate it to a wide audience or community. It is characterised by the following elements:

  • wide reach;
  • accessibility;
  • ease of use;
  • generation time; and
  • perpetuity.

Examples include online forums and message boards, wikis, blogs, and hosting services such as YouTube, although the most prolific of late has been social networking sites, such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Benefits of Social media to your business

The characteristics of social media make it an excellent tool within a business for the sharing of information between employees. Through the use of tools such as wikis and message boards, projects can be managed across large geographic distances and centralised electronically at very little cost.

Such technologies also allow members of a team to remain constantly up to date with developments in an allocated task without the necessity of reports to and from management. This in turn allows managers to interface less with employees on a minute-to-minute basis, and take a bigger picture look at the execution of the task.

Potential drawbacks

Like all technologies, social media has potential pitfalls. Facebook, for example, has been the subject of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into amendments to the privacy control system for a variety of reasons including privacy breaches from third party integrations and authentication failures resulting in exposure of users’ private profiles to the public.

These incidents reveal obvious privacy issues facing your employees as private citizens. Under Facebook’s statement of Rights and Responsibilities, the users grant Facebook:

“.… a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post...”

The license ends when the material is deleted, unless it has been shared with other users.

Aside from your employee’s personal privacy being potentially compromised, there is the inherent risk that sensitive information relating to your company’s undertakings that could be also compromised, and put beyond your control. Once information is uploaded onto these websites, its use is largely at the discretion of the service operators, subject to the limitations outlined in their terms and conditions.

How to protect yourself and your employees

Education of employees as to the potential pitfalls of the use of social media will help avert the majority of potentially compromising behaviour on their behalf. Some firms have even taken steps so far as enacting a code of conduct which explicitly limits what they are allowed to disclose in the course of online activity, as a term of their employment.

Regardless of the solution implemented, however, it is important to stay abreast of developments in social media technology, and changes to the terms and conditions of those services already operating, as they will affect your exposure individually, and as a company, when online.