Online social media can harm businesses and employees

These days it seems like everyone is online, from pre-teens uploading funny videos to YouTube to grandmas posting pictures on Facebook. Social media is an everyday part of life, and most of the time people don’t associate it with negative repercussions. Being disciplined or fired as a result of an online post is most likely the last thing on a person’s mind when he or she makes a humorous comment or posts a picture of that great weekend party. However, it’s possible for businesses in Minnesota and elsewhere to actually be harmed by the content that their employees post online.

Consequences of social media for businesses

Whether an employee uses a personal social media account or has access to post on behalf of the company, what he or she says online can have both positive and negative effects, says the U.S. Small Business Administration. Workers who highlight a company’s achievements and appear proud to work there, especially while posting on personal accounts, can improve the public’s trust and opinion in a business.

The opposite is also true, unfortunately. Employees who complain about their work hours or responsibilities, badmouth their supervisors or coworkers, or engage in inappropriate behavior online may not realize that they are representing their company even off the clock.

Social media contracts

It can help to clear up expectations and avoid misunderstandings by having new hires sign a social media policy. This type of contract should be clear and straightforward, and outline what is and is not acceptable to post online regarding the company or fellow employees. It should also illustrate the consequences that can occur if this employment agreement is breached.

Solid, fair social media contracts have been drafted by well-known entities such as Best Buy. Not only does Best Buy’s contract detail the dos and don’ts of personal social media when representing the company, but it also explains how an online presence can affect the privacy and rights of employees, their coworkers and those they work for. A good social media policy will remind workers how to protect themselves online as well as prevent misrepresentation of the company.

When social media posts go wrong

Employee mistakes via social media often make headlines and illustrate why it’s a good idea to be careful what you post online, says CNN. The following examples are proof:

  • The author of an infamous blog bashing customers and the company was fired for writing about his job during work hours.
  • A high school math teacher tweeted about smoking weed and posted explicit photos, then lost her job after school administrators discovered her Twitter account.
  • A group of miners were fired after posting a video of the viral “Harlem Shake” dance while on the job, which their employers did not find amusing.

An employer has every right to discipline or terminate an employee for his or her online conduct, even if the conduct seems harmless, says Talent Egg. Companies are justified in these actions if an employee’s social media activity is deemed to present the company or its employees in a bad light, even if the posts are unrelated to the company or other employees. For example, profanity-laden status updates on Facebook do not look professional if the person’s account is public and other people are able to see where the user is employed. Any type of contract can be complicated so businesses would do well to seek legal advice from a lawyer who is knowledgeable in this area.