top of page

Online Policy and Strategy Matter: Case Studies from Our Time in the Field

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

By CEO Constance A. Dunn

Your business needs a social media policy. Let me say that again. Your. Business. Needs. A. Social media policy.

Policy. Yawn, am I right? Yes, it is a dry word often tossed around by bureaucrats and lawyers, but our time working with businesses has brought us to respect the peace of mind that a well-written policy brings a business owner.

Here are some issues that are based on real case studies from our experience working with clients.

1) Losing control over your social pages

What does it mean to "lose control" of your social pages? Well, this could happen a number of ways. The most common is the employee who's responsibility it was to update social pages leaves a company without logging the passwords of accounts or adding anyone else as admin. This may seem like an obvious security oversight, but we have been surprised time and again by business owners who wash their hand's of dealing with their online presence and given total control to one employee. Get the following facts into your head once and for all:

a) An employee will rarely be as committed to your company as you are - if ever. Odds are, unless they are given a percentage of ownership or decision making power, most will leave before the business shuts down. In any case, it is typically a safe bet to have a process for key information to exist in writing and make it accessible to other key staff members within the company.

b) Even if your employee is the one that sets up the company's social accounts, those accounts belong to the company. Your employee should never use their own email address to manage business accounts. There should be a process that is both secure and accessible to the right people for logging passwords and passwords changes. As the owner or leader within a company, it is your responsibility to control and protect the output of your brand. If thoughtful planning isn't put into opening your accounts and managing passwords then you may find yourself in situation like the British Milk Council and their hilarious, albeit John Wick style destructive, ex-employee Jason. This is an unusual, viral case. Most of the time passwords are simply lost and the employee who knew them just disappears. While not as catastrophic, it is just as frustrating having to hunt down the employee and beg for your credentials. Ultimately, this may lead to having to open new accounts and abandon the followers that your business collected on the original account. This is confusing for social media users and a loss of value for your business.

So, it isn't hackers you should fear discrediting a brand's online image, it's usually people on the inside and typically those people are triggered by other types of mismanagement long before the accounts become compromised. Mind your Ps and Qs.

2) Security and Trolls

We just went over one necessary step to securing your accounts - a process for logging credentials. Once that is taken care of, it's time to look at other preventative measures.

a) Let's chat about 2-factor authentication. This is an extra level of security offered on Facebook personal user profiles and Google products. When you type in credentials and it triggers a text or call to the number associated with the account, that is 2-factor. In other words, they are using two different methods to verify that the person logging in is indeed authorized. It is undeniably a pain. It creates another step that trips up flow and is annoying. However, it is advisable on certain accounts. We recommend it for Facebook user accounts that are admins for ad accounts and business manager accounts.

b) Trolls - whether under a bridge or in your inbox - are typically grumpy, negative creatures out to smash things. Trolls can take different forms, but for businesses it typically takes the form of false or unfair reviews and comments. By unfair I mean a review from someone who has never visited your business or a negative comment/review complaining of something that has nothing to do with with your business. Some of these trolls feel they are acting with good intentions, such as trolls who are triggered by a legitimate complaint. The troll feels they are supporting this person that left the complaint by attempting to force the business to act with bad reviews. This happens all the time. Another type of troll might be someone who has a personal vendetta and uses a review feature on an online platform to act out their revenge. What is more rare are cases of rival businesses hiring trolls to sabotage a competitor. In the latter case there are legal steps a business can take to stop this activity.

The best way to combat any of the above situations is to prevent them from escalating.

First, respond to any legit complaints promptly and with a real solution for the customer. Second, hide or delete fraudulent comments and report the remaining that cannot be deleted. Also, banning and blocking the user accounts associated with these reviews is good practice. Often one person will operate multiple accounts under different names. This is a very common method used by people who have been banned before and know the steps that businesses take to prevent them from achieving their goals.

Fraudulent reviews that you can't get rid of, report to the platform. Respond to fraudulent reviews that you cannot delete calmly while at the same time pointing out that the review was not inspired by a real experience. See the below as an example:

"Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We believe your review may have been prompted by a recent Facebook comment. We have addressed this issue with the customer who left the original complaint to their satisfaction."

Typically outrage online does not last long. The key is to respond quickly and professionally. Staying calm and professional disarms most trolls. It takes the fun out of it.

3) How much is a social presence worth?

Most companies do not realize how much their following and online brand assets are worth. Granted, it is difficult to put hard numbers on the number of followers vs. engagement, etc. However, if your company has done the work of building a strong online presence with great reviews, well-written content that people engage with, and beautiful visual assets that are owned by your business - all those have monetary value that will be attractive to buyers. Not only have you saved the buyer time and money by building an online presence over a long period of time, you are handing over your online reputation which has a lot to do with where people choose to spend their money and how credible they find a company.

If you are planning on selling your business with a large online following, high traffic, and well managed content, make sure you consult a broker with experience evaluating these brand assets.

4) Protecting accounts for and from your employees

I have already addressed losing control of accounts because of mismanaged passwords and allowing one employee to take control. What we will go over here are best practices.

a) First, protecting accounts FROM employees. This isn't meant to imply that employees have malicious motives. In fact, that is far from the case. Most people enjoy performing well for their employer and have the best intentions. But having good intentions does not mean an employee has the right skills or enough knowledge of the brand to tell its story online without supervision. That is why it is important to provide access to key staff members and offer training with guidelines for online practices specific to your brand. This should include: tone, target audience, grammar guidelines, posting schedules, etc. The training should impart strategy along with general guidelines and best practices. This should all be in writing and available to reference. Be sure to add a community management and troubleshooting section.

b) When an employee who had access leaves the company or is let go, be sure to remove access immediately. This is both to protect your brand, but also out of respect for the former employee. Nobody wants to continue to receive notifications from their former employer's pages while they are still reeling about being laid off.

c) Now, let's talk about policies FOR your employees and contractors. Your employees personal pages belong to them. Full stop. It is not unprecedented that a company requests that an employee update their social pages or share company posts BUT that is all it is - a request. A company would be infringing upon an employee's private space if they put into policy repercussions for not following through. If an employee does not have an account or chooses not to participate, they should not fill obliged.

Furthermore, an employee's personal opinions and lifestyle, as long it is not affecting their work negatively, should make no difference to an employer. This however is very often not the case and involves macro-issues in hiring that need to be addressed. To give a concrete example, I recently discovered a personal connection of mine was refused a second interview for a job because he likes a certain band which he posted about on his Facebook page. What that means is that the first interviewer took it upon his or herself to check out his personal taste online before granting a second interview about a job that was totally unrelated to his personal taste in music. This is simply not right. My connection chose not to pursue this because it took too much energy away from finding another job that wouldn't do something like that. I absolutely agree with him, but if this type of practice isn't checked it will certainly continue.

I believe it may be advantageous to an employer to put in writing that their employees personal opinions and lifestyles will not effect hiring and promotion. How this type of policy is worded, i.e. taking exception to hate speech or calling for violence would require legal consult and careful consideration, but protecting your employees right to individually goes a long way to inspire skilled labor to apply.

Another new issue that has just begun to get some breathing space is the nationwide changes in marijuana law and a person's promotion of a lifestyle that includes legal participation in marijuana culture. Some say they are still experiencing negative effects with their career prospects in legal states.

A bigger discussion needs to happen around these types of discriminatory hiring practices around lifestyle choice. In the meantime, if you are looking for a job and want to ensure you are considered for your professionalism, experience, and work references, then make sure that all your social profiles are set to private just in case.

5) What to post and when?

A social media schedule is specific to each business or brand, as is what they should be posting. Some brands will achieve higher engagement with memes while others don't benefit from memes. However, best practices mean being aware of what is happening in your community and the national press before posting. What does the news have to do with my post about a spinach salad special at my restaurant? Well, was there a spinach recall in the news this morning? If so, then a spinach special is not only ill-timed, it is dangerous. That is a silly example, but I think I've made my point.

6) Who owns the content?

Copyright for online content is tricky. The Internet has changed the game for copyright and many content producers have changed their ideas around what belongs to them because of how the Internet works.

a) If your company will not be producing your own photography and video, then using a legit stock image and video database like Pixabay or Adobe Stock is an easy way to avoid copyright issues. If you can't find what you are looking for and need to do a Google search, then be sure to visit your advanced search settings prior to saving any images from the web. Click on the 'settings' tab at the top of a search. Choose 'advanced search'.

Change the setting on the bottom to "free to use or share, even commercially." Then click on 'advanced search'.

It will also be helpful to be knowledgeable about Creative Commons.

b) User-generated content has a lot of power to persuade in the online world. Most users will gladly contribute to your pages content if you simply ask and give proper credit. Another strategy is coming up with a hashtag that customers can make use of that signifies that they give a company permission to share their content. Some companies would do well to create a more complex release form that requires a signature. Often one company will make use of all these strategies when sharing user generated content depending on the situation.

If you have a physical location many customers will 'check in' online. This means that whatever content they are posting - a review on Yelp, a picture, etc. - will be attached to your location on that platform. That means you don't have to do anything to associate that content with your page. Your business has already been tagged.

If you would like to use a particular piece of content for paid advertising, then it is always advisable to get the user's permission in writing.

c) Any content your company produces or a vendor/agency creates on your behalf belongs to your brand. In the latter case this should be made clear in a contract.

Yes, you want users to share your content to their pages. That's a good thing. It's not a good thing if they claim the product or image as their own. This is not a common problem, but it does happen and has happened on pages we manage. If a page or user wrongfully claims your product or service as their's to sell, then report the page to the platform immediately and block the user from interacting with your page. In some cases it may be worthwhile to comment on the fraudulent information to point out that this is a scam or misrepresentation. For small businesses, in most cases simply reporting the problem to the platform will stop the activity and save you the cost of legal intervention. Some cases may require a cease and desist letter. It's never a bad idea to consult with a legal professional when in doubt.

7) What to do when one of the behemoth tech companies screws up

Unfortunately, you can't do much. However, I believe it is important to try. I also have reason to believe the focus of the legal industry will change dramatically in the coming years - small players banding together to confront large tech companies about ongoing privacy and policy issues. Congress can pull Zuckerberg in for a faux trial as many times as suits their entertainment needs, but ultimately it will be the public that demands action through civil suits. This may come in the form of companies that are would-be competitors who's growth is being stifled, trans users being prevented from operating accounts with new names, groups that feel their opinions are being oppressed, entities that have experienced unfair restrictions based on non-existent policies (this has happened to at least one of our clients), or any other infringement that the users (who are the lifeblood of the platforms) feel they want addressed.

As of right now, many large tech companies have purposely broad and vague policies. This allows them to react quickly and leaves little recourse for users and businesses that experience specific problems. Fortunately for tech companies many people who use the platforms don't care enough yet to question things too much and businesses using the platforms are so grateful for the cheap marketing tools that they don't want to shoot themselves in the foot. But if the buildup of scandals over the last three years or so is any evidence, this will change.

Every client we have worked with in the last three years has run into at least one of these issues. That is why we are building a special division of GHOST ROCK to tackle the big questions of how to protect yourself, your business and your employees online. If you are part of a legal firm or policy making team and have questions about these issues and more, we would love to chat over coffee. Get in touch:

53 views0 comments


bottom of page