As little as five years ago, you may have scoffed at the suggestion that social media would be important for your business, saying “Facebook? Bah! Who spends his days on that nonsense?”
Today, many of your employees regularly use social media during work hours, probably at your urging. But with the benefits of social media come pitfalls.
As the law begins to catch up with technology, social-media use has led to lawsuits. There are clearly legal issues implicated in social-media use.
Defamation as a result of disparaging someone else, trademark or copyright infringement and overtime concerns for mandated use after hours are just some of the concerns.
Design a policy that will help your dealership avoid legal problems. Here are some things to address.
Counsel employees on what is appropriate, how to use better judgment, and, if in doubt, to consult a manager.
Tie in with existing policies
If you have codes of ethics or behavioral guidelines, tie them into your social media policy. State that any policies already implemented in your workplace (e.g. anti-harassment, professional conduct, protecting trade secrets) are similarly applicable in the context of social media.
Put on controls
Many dealerships incorporate social media into their businesses, usually as a marketing tool. Make sure employees use the same level of professionalism, customer service and follow-up procedures as they would in any other business interaction.
Don't waste opportunities
Social media can be lucrative, but only if it is used systematically and with a focused business purpose. Establish procedures for dealing with leads from your social-media sites. A customer who “tweets” or “pokes” is accustomed to instant communication. The customer will not wait hours, let alone days, for a response.
State what employees can't post
Whether in an employee's personal post where you are identified as the poster's employer or on a business-related post, an employee should never reveal dealer proprietary information or customer information, should never cut and paste content from another source, should not use trademarks or logos belonging to others and should not post photographs of customers or their vehicles without express written permission.
Make sure that employees know never to discuss competitors for fear of a defamation action. If a competitor's name comes up, use the opportunity to sell your dealership.
Avoid the impression that the employee is speaking on behalf of your dealership when he or she is not
Require the employee, when doing non-business posting on blogs or other expressive media where the poster has been identified as your employee, to provide a disclaimer that statements are their own and not necessarily the dealership's.
Employment information on social networking profiles
If posters identify themselves as employees, they must ensure the contents of their profiles are consistent with how they wish to represent themselves professionally.
Make after-hours participation optional
To protect against overtime claims, state that your dealership is not requiring or encouraging employees contribute to dealer-hosted social media outside of regular work schedules. State that any activities after work hours on social-media platforms are the result of their own choice and on their own free time.
Give your policy teeth
Have employees acknowledge and sign the policy. Tell them that they do not have an expectation of privacy while using the Internet at work and their postings may be reviewed. Take disciplinary action, if necessary. Violations should have consequences.
Above all, regularly monitor social-media use and remind employees that Internet postings last forever and can spread rapidly.
Michael Charapp is an attorney with Charapp & Weiss, LLP. He specializes in representing motor vehicle dealers and be reached at (703) 564-0220 or [email protected].
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