Friday, January 11, 2013

Q&A With Perry Binder, J.D. on Employee Participation in Social Media and Blogging

This interview from 2009 with public relations professional, Andy Payment, then with the William Mills agency, serves as a backdrop to where we are in 2013 with employees on social networks.

Q&A With Perry Binder, J.D. on Employee Participation in Social Media and Blogging
FinTech Marketing Blog, Oct. 12, 2009
Banks are taking notice of the benefits provided by social media and blogging.  However, overall adoption of these tools has been slowed by a lack of understanding over how these tools fit in with an institution’s existing risk management policies.  To provide some clarity, WMA Director of New Media, Andy Payment, recently sat down with Perry Binder, J.D. a legal studies professor in Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, and the author of “Handling Employee Blogs: HR’s Seat at the Table?”
PAYMENT: We hear a lot horror stories about what happens when employees engage in new media.  What are some of the positive impacts of employee engagement in social media and blogging?
BINDER: There are numerous success stories where businesses encourage employees to utilize social media.  Examples include:
- Dell attributes $2 million in sales through its @DellOutlet Twitter page since 2007
- Starbucks developed the “splash stick” through customer feedback on
- Southwest Airline’s popular blog, Nuts About Southwest, was built to create a personal relationship between Southwest and the customer
PAYMENT: Banks, and the companies that serve them are typically very conservative entities with an emphasis on adherence to policy.  What advice would you give them about approaching a blogging and social media policy?
BINDER: Corporate culture is the key determinant in whether a company will have “buy in” to embrace social media.  It’s no coincidence that the more progressive companies like Yahoo! got onboard first.  Just like attorneys, conservative companies or banks are risk-averse, and like to control the message and content.  In some ways, permitting employees to blog is a leap of faith, with the payoff of generating new revenue streams and markets.  Thus, the need for a well-drafted company social media and blogging policy is critical.

 What are some common mistakes that employees make when engaging in social media and/or blogging?
BINDER: The “old school” (pre-internet) employee thinking was that they are employees from Monday-Friday, 9-5.  Today, an employee needs to realize that whatever he or she produces on the internet casts a reflection on the employer, especially when that employee talks about life at work.  Even if it is a Saturday night while sitting at a personal home computer, company workers must understand that they are now representing the company on a 24/7 basis.
PAYMENT: What elements/concepts are important to include in a company policy regarding employee use of social media?
BINDER: A social media policy should be framed in a positive manner, where employees are encouraged to blog because of the business benefits of creating an “internet buzz” for the company.  This freedom of expression can be liberating for the employee and increase morale in immeasurable ways.  However, specific constraints must be placed in a social media policy.  Other than the typical disclaimers about how the person’s opinion does not reflect the views of the company, there are four specific areas that a policy must address.
An employee shall not:
  1. discuss trade secrets or other proprietary information
  2. post defamatory information
  3. harass any individual on the web
  4. write discriminatory content in violation of Title VII
There is a fifth category, but specific guidance must be given to employees if this language is included:
5.  discuss matters which negatively reflect the company
PAYMENT: What are the most serious legal implications of employee social media/blogging?
BINDER: Employees can be terminated for violating the terms listed in 1-5 above.  The liability to the company is profound if, for example, discriminatory material is posted, the company does nothing about it, and now faces a Title VII charge from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
PAYMENT: Should a bank president be on Twitter?
BINDER: Twitter has a lot of clutter.  However, if a bank president stays on message and has followers ranging from banking associations to customers, Twitter can be a valuable marketing tool for the bank.
PAYMENT: Should banks be concerned about their vendors’ use of social media?
BINDER: All companies, including banks, need to be concerned about how their valuable name is used on the internet.  More specifically, if there is a contractual relationship with an entity, or the mere appearance of an agency relationship, that vendor needs to be made aware of the bank’s social media policy.  Further, the vendor’s employees must be made aware of the vendor’s contractual obligations, such as non-disclosure agreements.
PAYMENT: What’s new on the legal front with social media?
BINDER: The FTC just announced that beginning December 1, 2009, bloggers must reveal any connection they have with corporate advertisers.  For example, this policy might apply to companies that distribute free products to bloggers for a favorable review or endorsement.
Binder’s “wormy disclaimer”: This information is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as the dispensing of legal advice.
More about Perry Binder, J.D.
Perry Binder, J.D. is a legal studies professor in Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.  In 2008, Perry received the MBA students’ Crystal Apple Teaching Award, and in 2005 he received Robinson’s Teaching Excellence Award.  Perry is the author of numerous articles focusing on litigation prevention and employee blogging issues. His current paper is entitled Facebook as a Learning Tool, and in 2006, he published Handling Employee Blogs: HR’s Seat at the Table? in HR Executive magazine. 
October 12th, 2009

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