Social Media Policies in the Work Place
By Andy Adkins – Why a Social Media Policy – Why Now?
How many of your firm’s attorneys and staff have a Facebook or Instagram account? What about Twitter – do attorneys “tweet” during the day while on the job? What about your staff? The explosion of social media networks over the past few years has been phenomenal. IBM recently reported that “we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.” And that means that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. That little tidbit of information can be a little misleading, since we’ve been creating 90% of the world’s data every two years (think about that) for 30+ years.
But still, there’s a lot of data out there and there are more and more people connecting on social media sites. You can bet your bottom dollar that most of your attorneys and staff have Facebook pages and most of them probably check it or post to it several times a day. You want to know why your firm needs a Social Media Policy?
“Protect the firm; Protect the clients; Protect the employees.”
You also need to realize that it’s not just about accessing Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram or LinkedIn or Snapchat or Tumblr or Reddit or …) during the day. It’s about accessing and posting online anytime, day or night and on multiple devices including, iToys, Droids, and home computers. Users can access social media anytime and from anywhere, whenever they can find a wireless signal. It’s a fine line as to what you can do outside normal business hours, but with a little direction and training, most users will understand.
While you don’t want to get into the argument of “big brother” looking over the shoulder of your attorneys and staff, you do want to provide them with guideline about using social media in regards to the firm, the firm’s clients, and the firm’s employees. The last thing your CEO or COO wants to receive is a phone call or email from an angry client because they read a social media post from someone in your firm regarding a not-so-nice opinion expressed about an issue important to that client.
What should be included in the Social Media Policy?
One thing to keep in mind as you draft your Social Media Policy is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). These provide employees (and employers) with guidelines on social networking. Before you decide to “unplug” social media from use within the law firm (this can be done via IT, but should not be done due to the above), you should review the NLRA.
Your Policy should include a “definition of social media,” and make it flexible enough to withstand additional social media sites that are sure to appear in the near future. In other words, don’t just include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. A simple definition of “Social Networking” means communicating with others over the Internet for business and social purposes.
Be wary that many social media sites can easily upload contact lists; make sure you state that (as well as train the individuals) in your policy-“no importing or exporting any client contacts to any social media site.”
You absolutely must have a statement in your Social Media Policy regarding Client Confidentiality. And last, but not least, you should have a statement regarding enforcement if the policy is violated.
Drafting your Social Media Policy should be a team effort that includes HR, the General Counsel, the CEO, the COO, and the CIO (or IT Director).
Dos and Don’ts
Most social networking sites provide an appropriate forum for discussing or posting messages. Users need to be cautious that their online postings do not adversely impact or create issues for the firm, its clients or, or its attorneys. Users should be personally responsible for all content posted on their social media sites; it’s difficult to delete content once it is posted to a site. The firm may also consider a “disclaimer” such as “The statements and views expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my firm.”
You can probably do an Internet search for Social Media Policies and “borrow” from those to create your own policy, but here are a few dos and don’ts you may want to include:
1. When using social media sites, make sure the privacy settings are appropriate and don’t rely on the “default” privacy setting.
2. Do not provide legal advice or counsel. Doing so could unintentionally create an attorney-client relationship.
3. Do not opine or take any position on legal issues. Doing so could create a conflict issue with one of the firm’s clients.
4. Do not express personal opinions about other people, especially attorneys, judges, politicians, and clients.
5. Do not express personal opinions about controversial topics, such as religion or politics, or endorsements.
6. Do not post any content that could be characterized as deformation or harassment, plagiarism, advertising, or a claim of a specific expertise.
7. Do not use the words “expert” or “specialized” unless such terms are approved by the State Bar Code of Professional Conduct in your jurisdiction.
8. Do not discuss firm business or clients, unless authorized to do so by the firm.
9. Do not use the firm’s logo or suggest you are writing on behalf of the firm unless previously authorized by the firm.
10. Do ensure that your posting is accurate, truthful, respectful, and is spelled correctly with the appropriate grammar and tone.
11. Do post only content that you would be comfortable having the attorneys, your colleagues, and the general public see.
12. Do be aware that rules of professional conduct apply on social media platforms.
13. Before you respond to an inaccurate or negative comment about the firm, the firm’s attorneys, or its clients, obtain approval from the firm’s General Counsel.
14. Before you respond to inquiries from journalists on issues related to the firm, the firm’s attorneys, or its clients, or any inquiry on a legal matter, obtain approval from the firm’s General Counsel.
15. When posting or responding to posts, use the first person to avoid attributions to the firm.
Keep in mind as you draft (or update) your Social Media Policy, social media will always change and you need to continue to update it as appropriate. Someone smart once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to ruin it.”
Andy Adkins is the Chief Information Officer of Social Evidence, LLC, a leading cloud-based social media collection, organization, and analysis application. He has been an independent legal technology consultant for more than 25 years, a past chair of the ABA TECHSHOW (2000, 2001) and past co-chair of LegalTech Conferences (2000-2007). He is the author of “The Lawyer’s Guide to Practice Management Systems,” published in April 2009 by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. He can be reached at 352.538.5346, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.social-evidence.com.
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