Articles from Pacific Northwest Law Group

Due Diligence & Social Media Pitfalls
Dec 14, 2015

              It’s not a secret that many recruiters and business owners use social networking sites to screen prospective employees.  But dictating how and when employees use social media and monitoring employees and client’s social media can be complicated at best.  When an employee enters an organization they need to understand the rules so a clear social media policy is critical.  Customers also now use social media extensively to learn more about the business they work with. As employers operate their own social media accounts, proper due diligence needs to be in place to ensure protection for employees, customers, and the business itself.  

Due Diligence

            Before jumping into social media as a business, it’s important to conduct due diligence and work through a strategic plan — it will help to figure out what the business is doing and why. As part of this due diligence it’s vitally important for the organization to determine what their goals are with social media.  It’s also critical to define roles and responsibilities. Keeping track of who has access to what accounts, usernames and passwords helps safeguard social media accounts and helps ensure the message the business wants to portray is the one being used at all times.

            Rules around copyright, disclosures, and image sourcing can lead to disasters if the social media team doesn’t know what is and isn’t allowed.  Make sure that employees who are actively involved in the company’s social media are well versed in the laws governing your industry and know all pertinent information in the company’s policy.  Keeping track of intellectual property to ensure it is not disclosed on social media, either accidently or deliberately, or is properly identified if allowed is critical to ensure the business is legally protected.  All employees involved with the company’s social media should be aware of disclosure limitations on all:

  • Inventions and Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Service Marks
  • Licenses and License Agreements, Confidential Information
  • Products/Services Under Development

             Overlooked due diligence often includes Cloud based issues, tracking company’s internet sites and newsgroups, third party vendors, source code escrow agreements and third party access to social media accounts. The point of any due diligence that includes social media is to empower staff, protect the business and entice customers by planning ahead. 

The Social Media Policy      

           Whether your business is active on social media or not, every organization should recognize that its employees typically are.   Such on-line presence can create risk and benefits for both the employer and the employee. A well written social media policy can be a company's first line of defense to mitigate risk for both the employer and the employee.  Some guidelines to follow when developing such a policy include:

  • State that the policy applies to all social networking websites for both professional and personal use and specifies when, if ever, social media may be used on company time.  Internet postings should respect any information that is confidential or proprietary to the company or to any third party that has disclosed information to the company
  • If an employee comments on the company's business they must identify themselves as an employee and include a disclaimer like, "the views expressed are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the company."
  • Internet postings should not include company logos or trademarks without prior company consent and must respect copyright, privacy, financial disclosure, and other applicable laws. Corporate blogs, Facebook pages, etc., could require approval when the employee is posting about the company and the industry.

          Even with detailed social media policy in place, it should be noted that all employees have certain rights under federal law that social media policies can't compromise.  Ambiguities in most policies as well as overreaching restrictions technically violate the law by potentially restricting these rights. Basically, workers have the right to communicate with each other, to talk about their work environment, utilize social media on their own time, as well as talk about legal claims they may have against an employer.  In implementing such a policy it is important to remind employees to familiarize themselves with their employment agreement and various related policies such as a confidentiality policy.

           If you have legal questions about your company's social media policy, or if your company doesn't have a social media policy, please contact us to help you create a policy that will help protect your company.  

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