This past month I attended an e-discovery conference and sat in on one of the sessions that covered social media in Corporate America. It made sense that I attend this session because at some point over the past five years I had been anointed a, “social media guru” by friends, family and co-workers. After all, I did have two Facebook accounts, five foursquare accounts and seven twitter accounts – to name just a few. Surely I must be an expert, right? The reality is, I was just curious about this new form of information sharing – and as soon as another social network popped up online, I would fill out another profile.
Being relatively new to the e-discovery industry I have been very interested to learn exactly how corporate America is handling their employees’ interactions on social media sites with regard to potential lawsuits and e-discovery collections. Attend any social media regulation seminar, workshop, etc. and you’ll most likely hear thoughts on the following
1) How do I monitor what my employees are saying about my company on social media sites?
2) Should I prevent my employees from accessing social media sites from their work PC’s?
3) How proactive should we be in our social media interaction with disgruntled clients?
4) Where is the line drawn between employee privacy or freedom of speech versus malicious intent and libelous behavior?
All of these are great topics and definitely need to be addressed. There is actually a fantastic website that has a ton of resources regarding these very issues called Social Media Governance (Authored by Chris Boudreaux). It currently contains 175 social media policies used by a variety of organizations.
What I am not seeing addressed is how corporations intend to monitor employee activities that occur on social media sites that are not easily traced back to the employee, or cannot be viewed as something malicious in nature, yet definitely reflect negatively on the employer. Just Google the phrase “twitter account meltdown” and you’ll come up with over 13 million examples of this happening!
Example: Let’s say I had a “friend” who worked in the financial institution industry and due to his ability to distribute meaningful and useful content had built up a twitter following of nearly 2000 accounts, 500 of which were actual clients or prospects. It would be very easy for my friend to cast a negative image of his company merely by deciding to write opinionated views on religion, politics, divisive issues etc. Nothing vulgar or malicious in nature, but just a mere opinion one way or the other could run off roughly 50% of his followers, who would then most likely not want to do business with him or his company in the future.
Scary, isn’t it?
I think about this often because as social media outlets continue to grow and people begin to feel more and more comfortable airing their personal opinions online, the easier it will become for those lines to become blurred and often crossed. Things like blogs or messages boards have been around for a long time, so some may argue that this isn’t something all that new. I would contest that opinion. When was the last time you caught an employee writing a blog post from their phone? Now, how many employees have Twitter and Facebook Apps on their phones? It’s easier today than it has ever been before for someone to distribute their ideas to the masses. Smart companies need to be asking themselves what mechanisms they need to have in place to stay on top of what employees are sharing with customers and potential customers. It’s only a matter of time until mismanagement of social media policy leads to serious consequences – not only for the bottom line, but potentially in the legal and e-discovery arenas as well.