Social Media Ethics

Do you or people who work for you participate in Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook for us oldsters or Pinterest and the other new and upcoming sites for the younger “in” crowd?  My guess is that 99.9999% of you answer, or should answer, yes.  (And I don’t think I want to know what the other 0.0001% does!)  With social media being so pervasive the next question is do you and your employees know what is expected from them when it comes to talking about your company?

I can hear the howls about how “the company can’t tell me what to or not to say,” but I am not getting into a free speech issue here.  I am getting into an ethical (and in some cases legal) issue.  Is it ethical for you to praise the products of your company and not tell the Social media world you work for that very same company?  Is it appropriate to have every employee of your company be an unofficial spokesperson for the company?  Is it acceptable to exaggerate your or your company’s ability to perform?

I’ll date myself by bringing up a rule I was taught when I first left college.  Don’t say something you wouldn’t want the whole world to see in print as tomorrow’s newspaper headline.   At least back then most newspapers had a somewhat limited circulation.  Social media sites have a virtually unlimited circulation.  Now what you say can be read all over the world, and not tomorrow, but the next second.  But really nothing has changed.  You still should say anything in social media unless you are willing to have the whole world see it.

I feel it is important for companies to help their employees think through these issues by providing social media guidelines.  Here are some suggestions that avoid the free speech issue, but still make it clear what is acceptable.

  1. If you are commenting about the company or its products or services, make sure it is clear to everyone that you work for the company.  The reader can then weigh your comments with that knowledge in mind.
  2. Unless you are the official spokesperson for the company make sure people know these are your personal opinions and not official statements of the company (see – this doesn’t say they can’t say it, it just says they need to make it clear its their opinion and not the company’s).
  3. Remember the securities laws.  If you have access to nonpublic information you can’t share it on social media just like you can’t share it with your brother.  That is unless you like getting in trouble with the SEC.
  4. Only use approved social media sites to conduct business (set up business meetings, communicate with customers, etc.)

Social media is a very powerful tool, but like any tool it can be misused – intentionally or unintentionally.  No guidelines will limit the intentional misuse of social media, but guidelines can help you and your employees cut down on the unintended consequences of misuse. Oh, and for the record, I am an employee of AT&T and all opinions in these blogs are my own and not those of AT&T.

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