One basketball player hate-tweeted another player, and another posted an inappropriate picture. The fine for each: $25,000.
A New York City nurse was fired after posting a picture on Instagram of an empty emergency room bay where a patient was treated after being hit by a train.
When a money manager shared false investment information via Tweets and to an email list of 60,000 people, he was fined $100,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Each of these examples show a lack of understanding of how using social media to discuss professional details can have consequences from violating a company’s written and implied compliance policies.
The Dangers of Social Media for Your Business
Social media has become ubiquitous in virtually every company, and with more instant exposure to the world, the risk of divulging confidential, false or reputation-damaging information rises dramatically. There’s no such thing as a true “delete” on the Internet — all it takes is one person to grab a screenshot of a tweet or Facebook post to give it immortal life.
“One wrong step on social media can put you out of business. It can make you unemployable, if you have a job and you handle social media for your business. It can put your company into bankruptcy court,” says Eric Schwartzman, founder of ComplySocially.com, a social media training provider.
How to Avoid a Social Media Disaster
Schwartzman says the most important element to keeping out of trouble on social media is to make sure all employees and executives understand the disclosure policies of their companies and industries across all channels, not just social media. Different industries have different standards.
The health care industry, for example, has HIPAA regulations that protect patient privacy — if a medical receptionist posts on Facebook the name of a movie star in the waiting room, that’s a violation even if she doesn’t mention the nature of the visit. The financial sector is governed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which also has stringent standards of confidentiality and conflict of interest.
Another rule of social media is to use common sense and to protect the reputation of your business —even if what you’re expressing is actually legal or within compliance guidelines.
“Discrimination, harassment, defamation, intrusion of privacy. These are all things that you have to be wary of if you’re using social media for business, and a lot of people aren’t aware of these things,” Schwartzman says.
One ethical breach he describes is hashtag “spamming” or “jacking,” which is co-opting the use of a social media hashtag — the pound sign # that denotes a keyword or trending topic — on Instagram or Twitter to call attention to your post that may have a tangential, or completely missing, relationship to the actual topic. Among the most notable examples: When shoe designer Kenneth Cole tweeted about the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising, he implied that the uproar may be because their new spring collection was now available online. Cole’s insensitivity to the situation dealt his brand a blow from which it is yet to fully recover.
Prevent Social Media Missteps by Investing in Employee Training
Most small businesses, Schwartzman says, probably won’t suffer more than embarrassment if they misstep on social media, but a little insurance in the form of training never hurts. “I think doing at least some training around social media compliance is a way to ensure that your investment in social media doesn’t wind up creating some sort of a crisis that could eventually bring you down.”