Social media considerations for companies

Individuals’ social media blunders have cost SA businesses a minimum of R750 000 000 since January 2016.
Picture: Shutterstock

Businesses and companies often underestimate the importance of having a social media policy in place for their employees. With social media rapidly branching out onto platforms, employers and employees alike need to take responsibility over what they post and its possible consequences.

Farhad Bhyat CEO of specialist social media risk mitigation company, Farosian, said many companies do have a social media policy in place, but most of the time it falls under the company’s IT or marketing policy.

Bhyat told Moneyweb that businesses and companies should invest in a stand-alone social media policy and an external screening process ahead of recruiting employees. A good social media policy can grow the company name, profile and appearance, while a bad one or none at all, could damage the company name and incur financial losses to the company.

Individuals’ social media blunders have cost South African businesses a minimum of R750 000 000 since January 2016, and this number is growing, according to Bhyat. This is due to loss of sales, loss of clients, brand/image or reputation damage, and pay-outs due to no social media policy.

“It is far safer to have a policy and not need it, than not have a policy and have no guides, protocol or guidelines in addressing the challenge faced,” said Bhyat.

Seven social media strategies for businesses and companies:

  • A social media policy should be thought of as an investment

Companies need to consider an ‘air-tight’ social media policy, which links and speaks to each policy within the organisation. Professional social media risk mitigation providers should be consulted or sourced to design and develop a policy. It should be reassessed annually.

“A comprehensive and stand-alone social media policy will assist any business in navigating the mazes of social media and social media use,” said Bhyat.

  • Social media awareness training

Employees should be made aware of the details in the policy to ensure they know how to manage their professional and personal social media accounts to avoid any form of brand and reputational damage.

It is important to train staff on how to use social media and also be considerate of associated legal aspects, consequence and legislation.

  • Social media screening – Part 1

Social media screening is a balanced and unbiased assessment of an individual’s social media accounts, content and activities. It assists employers during the recruitment process. Screening enables employers to gather insights of the candidate, making them aware of possible red flags or to help them suss out their new star-performer. It also informs the employer if the candidate suits the company culture. (Private accounts are not accessed- this is not hacking).

Bhyat said it is mandatory that these are performed externally, firstly with the right tools and secondly to avoid internal discrimination.

According to Bhyat, 19% of all Farosian social media reports are highly negative, demonstrating evidence of racism, sexism, homophobia, hate speech, drug use or distribution, illegal activities, defamation of current employer or co-workers, etc. (Political and religious views are not included, unless they amount to hate speech).

“Unless businesses are aware of these situations and content, they have no idea what damage could be caused or is being caused,” he said.

  • Social media screening – Part 2

Screening assessments should be performed more than once. Social media produces huge amounts of information which moves at massive speeds. People respond differently to changes in social media and should therefore be screened at regular intervals and according to their risk-levels.

Employee risk levels are based on conduct, high-level areas such as reach, content which is defined as negative or damaging and privacy settings in place.

“Just remember people like Justine Sacco, Penny Sparrow and many many others. These are the people which gained media exposure and traction. There are millions more who go unnoticed by the media but cause massive financial losses,” said Bhyat.

Bhyat said very few businesses take into account elements such as a removed employee: even if a person is no longer employed at that company they may still be associated with it. This can cause potential image and brand damage, if an individual gets caught out for inappropriate social media comments and becomes the next viral incident.

  • Social media screening – Part 3

Part of the social media screening process is to ensure that current employees are not sharing confidential company information online. Employees could pose the biggest risk to the company’s image and reputation or can be the best brand ambassadors one could have. The employer should therefore take cognisance of this during the screening process.

  • Legal compliance    

If screening is done internally, then access to protected information is a huge possibility and may lead to discrimination and litigation.

Therefore, social media screening should be done externally. Social media allows access to information on individuals such as sexual orientation, religious beliefs, pregnancy status, all of which are protected by law.

“Outsource all social media screening to a professional provider who will conduct impartial, unbiased and balanced screening with measurement. Remember, once it is seen, it can’t be unseen,” said Bhyat.

  • Growing your brand and reputation

Just as current employees pose a possible high risk in terms of social media, they can also be your best brand equity building ambassadors. Engage with staff and encourage the promotion of your company. The best advertising is word of mouth and social media. It gives everyone a higher level of spreading that word with higher reach. Use this to your advantage.

A strong and comprehensive policy (including screening policy) is there to protect both the company and the staff in their personal and professional capacities. Staff may feel that they are being told how and what to do on their social media profiles. The reality is, a strong social media policy (with proper training for staff) will in the long term protect the employees’ best interest, and play a role in ensuring better conduct and behaviour. This will improve the social presence and image of staff, which will play a significant role in their career prospects.

Social media provides each of us with a platform to have our own ‘global billboards’. A strong social media policy and training for staff, improves everyone’s ‘advertising’ and increases marketability and potential earnings worth. 



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