By now, it's hardly news that an employee's social media mistakes – whether committed on a personal or business account – have real-world repercussions. The unfortunate person behind the Texas Rangers' social media account is just another number in this growing trend.
According to a report by The Dallas Morning News, the Texas Rangers' Twitter account blasted a strange tweet in response to the Longhorns' trampling TCU in a 50-7 defeat: "Fire Charlie. #bye." The tweet was referencing TCU's football coach Charlie Strong, and the Internet was quick to point out that the Rangers probably shouldn't have such a public opinion about the employment status of another team's coach.
Though the tweet was probably meant for the employee's personal account, the report notes the Texas Rangers quickly fired the employee over the debacle and issued a public apology that assured fans the tweet does not reflect the team's ideas about the University of Texas' head football coach.
Let's see how your business can avoid these foot-meets-mouth moments online.
How the Social Media Bullhorn Can Land You in Court
It's easy to publish a tweet or status update that you regret later. Social media is cathartic in that you can vent to the digital abyss and sometimes get some validation from your friends and followers about your situation or feelings.
When you're a business owner, anything you publish online reflects on your business, even if it is from your personal account. For example, if you spout off about a competitor, that business may sue you over defamation (unless what you say is 100 percent objectively true, and that is so rarely the case with opinions).
Most General Liability Insurance policies have advertising injury coverage, which can step in when social media gaffes land you with a lawsuit. For example, this coverage may pay for legal expenses when someone sues your business over:
- Libel or slander (e.g., posting a negative and business-hurting comment about a competitor).
- Invasion of privacy.
- Copyright infringement (e.g., posting someone's copyrighted photo to your business's Facebook Timeline without their permission).
- Trademark infringement.
- Using someone's image, words, or likeness without their consent.
You can learn more about advertising injuries in Chapter 2 of our free eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury.
What to Do When Your Employees Become a Social Media Liability
Though social media has many benefits for a small business – free advertising and brand building, for starters – it's not without its drawbacks. Among its pitfalls is the fact that there is little separation between the business and personal world for you and your employees.
Chances are most of your employees proudly display where they work on their LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages. That's a nice added bit of exposure for your business, but it can also be a gamble.
What if some employees are bullies or just outright jerks in their online off time? It happens more often than we'd like to think (see Huffington Post's report on a Cold Stone Creamery employee who tweeted racial slurs about President Obama from her personal account in 2012). Meanwhile, your company's logo blazes under their profile picture.
Your employees' online behavior can reflect poorly on your business, leading some potential clients and customers to believe those attitudes and behaviors are tolerated or even endorsed by your business. What do you do?
- Let the offending employee go and apologize for their behavior. This is what the public has come to expect from businesses whose employees make a majorly offensive social media move.
- Try to keep employees from making these mistakes from the start. No, you can't control how your employees use their personal social media accounts. However, it's fair to let them know that if they cite your business on their personal profiles, you expect them to engage appropriately. (Related reading: "Are You Liable for Your Employees' Social Media Blunders?")
Lastly, for employees that run your business's social media accounts, you should have a social media policy in place that outlines acceptable and unacceptable posts based on your brand's values. For a guide on how to create such a policy, read "Small Businesses: Create a Social Media Policy that Works."