You may love or hate social media, but you can't ignore it
Social communication via the internet is here to stay, so get your policy in place sooner rather than later, advises Stephen Clarke
For those of you who don’t have teenage children and who think that tweeting is what swallows do, social media is communication via the internet. The most common platforms are Facebook and its business-related cousin LinkedIn, Twitter and Flickr, but there are many other smaller sites.
Social media is becoming increasingly important for all companies, not least because the lines between work lives and professional and business lives are becoming increasingly blurred in a very confusing and potentially dangerous way.
Here we highlight some of the dangers and the benefits of using social media.
Waste of time. The most obvious risk may appear to be that it is simply a waste of your employees’ time. Staff are paid to work and they are being distracted by social media as they are continually updating their Facebook page or tweeting.
Information leaks. A more subtle risk is the possible unauthorised release of information, either inadvertently or mischievously. This could include confidential management information and company secrets, either owned by your company or by third parties such as clients and corporate partners.
Abuse. Employees may use their communications to defame or abuse another person — their line-manager or maybe a secretary in a supplier’s office for example. Even if this happens outside of work, there are circumstances in which an employer can be held liable.
Reputational risks. Companies pay huge amounts of money for marketing departments to “manage their brand”. This can all be undone in an instant by inappropriate use of social media.
Intellectual property. Misuse and theft of intellectual property, including designs, construction drawings, strategic plans and other documents is a risk.
Positive image projection. The main aim of construction companies that use social media effectively is to project a positive image of their business into the public domain. It can be used in this way both internally (to encourage cohesion within teams and groups) and to spread useful messages externally in the wider construction industry marketplace.
Reputational rewards. Such a positive image can be used directly to generate business opportunities and can also be helpful to appeal to new young dynamic potential employees.
Direct Marketing. Through the use of links to websites, blogs and newsletters it’s possible to market directly to potential clients.
What should you do?
The one thing either you as an individual, or your company, cannot do is ignore social media. Remember when email first arrived and companies tried to ban it at work? None of us in the construction industry could survive a week without it now. Social media will be the same sort of game-changer in many ways.
The most obvious way to proceed is to have a clear policy regarding employees’ use of social media. The basic rules should be that all use of social media should be respectful, it should not reveal any confidential or personal information and, when communicating on a personal basis, the writer should make clear that they are not representing the company. An apparently innocent exchange of “comic” material on a social networking platform could end up being tomorrow’s viral sensation seen by millions and causing your company to be a laughing stock.
Stephen Clarke is national head of construction law at Clarke Willmott.
Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: 0845 209 1303