Risk and Reward: Legal Problems in Social Media

5th September 2017

Social media has revolutionised the way we do business online and you’re probably already using some form of it to market your business.

According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 SMEs, more than 81 per cent now use social media to advertise or promote their goods and services. With more customers than ever using online searches and reviews to find suppliers globally, an effective and positive social media presence can be key to winning and retaining customers.

But if a disgruntled customer or employee (or ex-employee) tweeted a false claim or posted an angry review on Facebook, your good work could be undone in an instant.

Negative social media can damage your business’ reputation, but you can limit that damage by having an effective online risk management and response plan in place and knowing your legal rights.

An unhappy customer has posted a negative review about my business – what is my next step?

Even a good business is sometimes subject to customer complaints, but even if you have an almost perfect satisfaction rate, it only takes a couple of aggrieved customers (rightly or wrongly) to change this.

Prominent online negative reviews make it harder to win new customers and even can affect the confidence levels of existing satisfied customers.

Most reputable review websites offer you a right to reply. If the comment is on Facebook or Twitter, you can engage directly online or offline with the customer.

If you are considering writing a response to a negative review, don’t rush it. Ensure any response is solution orientated, rather than defensive, and do remember that your response could be reposted anywhere online.

Responding positively to customer complaints almost always leads to positive results. Disgruntled customers might even remove or amend their comments. A great customer service response from you, which makes it clear that you take responsibility and work quickly to rectify any problems, can turn a difficult situation to your advantage.

One of my employees has posted a defamatory comment about my business online – what can I do?

Employee misuse of social media can be devastating to your business, both legally and from a PR perspective. Not only might employees’ gripes on social media about their work environment or colleagues impact on your reputation, it might also affect productivity.

A properly drafted and enforced policy on the use of social media by your employees is your most effective tool in protecting yourself against legal liability and harm to your reputation.

As a business owner, you must have access to all of your business’ social media accounts and the passwords for them, so that you can change them and access accounts freely. You need to be alert to their content, so that you can hold your employees accountable. If one of your employees is being negative about you on social media, it might constitute grounds for dismissal.

It’s crucial to establish parameters for the safe and effective use of social media and make it clear to staff that you have the power to take action if they contravene that guidance. They should be aware that any offensive, defamatory or discriminatory comments (made online in or out of work) may result in disciplinary action.

Restricting employees’ use of social media completely is not practical (nor will it find favour with employment tribunals) but by adopting a common sense approach you can balance protecting your legitimate business interests against your employees’ right to privacy.

It’s not easy to monitor what’s being said online all the time but putting in place a robust social media policy and incident response plan can reduce your risk.

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