Implementing a social media policy for your business

By Naomi Menon,  Compliance Coordinator, MFAA

Social media is now an integral part of the marketing mix for most businesses.  It is important however to understand how to manage this medium in line with statutory and regulatory expectations for your business.

In Pearson v Linfox Australia, Fair Work Commissioner Gregory stated, “The establishment of a social media policy is clearly a legitimate exercise in acting to protect the reputation and security of a business.” [1]

So what policies do you require?  Essentially, you need to have two social media policies.  First, you need a Social Media Policy for your internal staff that should include topics such as:

  • who is authorised to conduct social media on behalf of your company;
  • the standards of those conducting social media including standard response times;
  • repercussions for non-compliance with those policies;
  • addressing how you manage complaints and social media crisis management;
  • how often social media pages will be monitored by authorised persons; and
  • how MFAA Members should adhere to the MFAA Social Media Policy – Members’ Guidelines with regard to their conduct online as a member.

Secondly, your business needs to have an external social media policy or Moderation Policy that explains to users of your social media pages how the page will be moderated.   Such a policy should be visible and clearly available to the public and should include topics such as:

  • what behaviour will not be accepted e.g. offensive, defamatory, illegal; and
  • circumstances where posts will be removed e.g. for non-compliance or where misleading and deceptive in contravention of statutory obligations.

The Australian Government has created a Social Media Planning Checklist and template for business.  This is available for download here.

As part of the development of your policy it is important that you and your staff understand that social media is treated the same at law, as any other form of advertising. In addition to this, defamation laws also apply to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and a number of recent cases have highlighted that persons making such comments will be held liable. For example in Seafolly v Madden [2], the principal of a business was held liable after posting a comment on her personal page that said, “The most sincere form of flattery”, implying a competitor had breached copyright law.  As it could not be substantiated, the court ordered she pay costs and $25,000.  And that was posted for less than 30 hours!

Similarly, the first Twitter defamation case in Australia occurred in Mickle v Farley [3] where a student posted defamatory comments against a teacher. As this had a ‘devastating effect’ on the teacher, it went to trial and she was awarded $105,000.

Your social media policy should address such standards and apply to all posts and comments on all platforms including in blogs.

It is critical that all businesses, their management and staff understand the implications and repercussions of posting to social media.

[1] Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FWC 446, 40.

[2] [2012] FCA 1346.

[3] [2013] NSWDC 295.

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