Social Media Law

Social Media Guidelines Template

The social media revolution is in full swing and is stopping for no one. We have already explained elsewhere how important social networks are for business.

The aim of this article is to provide a template and starting point for businesses wishing to develop social media guidelines. Please note that it is advised to modify this template to your specific business needs. We would be happy to help you make these modifications.

Muster für Social Media Guidelines

Social Media Guidelines Template

The following template was produced by German lawyer Christian Solmecke who is a partner at the Cologne-based and media-specialist law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is also director of the German Institute for Internet Communication and Law (Das Deutsche Institut für Kommunikation und Recht im Internet (DIKRI), a research institute affiliated to the Cologne Business School. Christian Solmecke has already advised numerous businesses on the implementation of social media guidelines. The following template should be used as a guide only and should be modified to suit your business needs.

You can contact Christian Solmecke at WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE via the DIKRI website (www.dikri.de), or via the social network profiles: www.twitter.com/solmeckewww.xing.com/profile/Christian_Solmecke, www.youtube.com/KanzleiWBS or via Facebook.

The template below was first published in February 2011 at the Social Media Conference in Hamburg. You are permitted to use and adapt these social media guidelines for your business free of charge. It is also permitted to pass these guidelines on to third parties, provided reference is made and a link is provided to the author and website www.wbs-law.de.

SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES TEMPLATE

Author: Lawyer Christian Solmecke

Social Media Guidelines

The following guidance is designed to aid employees of companies in using social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, blogs and forums for both private and professional purposes. The aim of the guidance is to protect the company and you as a private person from consequences of potentially damaging activities.

Introduction

As an introduction to any social media guidelines an overview of their purpose and objectives should be given. Depending on the extent to which the company is active on the social media scene, the purpose and objectives can be as broad or as narrow as required. In particular, attention can drawn to the need to present the company positively on the internet.

Extent of social media use

Active participation in social networking in all forms can be extremely time consuming. You should therefore ensure that your duties within the company are not neglected as a result of your social media activities.

As the extent to which social media is used by businesses differs, the guidance here has been kept purposefully short. It is often the case that an agreement already exists which regulates the extent to which an employee may use the internet whilst at work, meaning that there is no need for such a rule in the social media guidelines. It is important that the above clause is not used where the private use of social media is prohibited, for example in the employment contract or contractor agreement.

Personal responsibility

You are personally responsible for the personal and professional comments and statements you make. Content placed on the internet once can often remain available for a long time. Before publishing your entry, you should consider its content carefully.

The fact that a person is responsible for his online activities is almost as self-evident as the requirement to observe the law and general codes of conduct. Nevertheless, inclusion of a clause, similar to that above, is indispensable. This is because awareness of legal provisions can often be overshadowed by the apparent protection of anonymity.

Observe the law

Beachten Sie auch bei der Nutzung von Social Media geltende gesetzliche Vorgaben wie beispielsweise des Datenschutz-, Urheber- und Markenrechts.

Netiquette

 Social rules on personal space should be observed. Be respectful to other social media participants and to competitors. Ensure you observe the terms of use of the particular social network you are using.

Transparency

Transparency and openness are prerequisites for both private and professional relationships. Therefore, you should not hide behind a pseudonym or anonymity. Transparent behaviour is reflected in using your correct name and the name of the company and also in openly recognising that mistakes have been made. For example, you should openly amend mistakes made in published material and not simply delete the offending article without commenting.

Transparency is closely linked to rules on content, as both require conscientious behaviour. Furthermore, both sets of rules allow a business to react openly to any incidents linked to internet publications.

Acknowledge your own private opinion

If you publish a comment linked to our company, do so in the first person (“I” and not “we”). Clearly state, either directly or through sufficient notice on the page, that the comment is your own private opinion. You should also clearly differentiate between expressions of opinion and fact.

This paragraph could also include advice on how a notice could be drafted and where it is to be found on a page (e.g. in the “legal notices” section of a private blog).

 Avoid statements which are damaging to the business

When using social media, you should be aware of your connection to the company. In particular, in a professional context, critical or damaging comments about the company should not be made. Moreover, privately expressed criticism can also have negative consequences for the success of the company and its employees. The same applies to comments about management or about customers.

Where comments are made which are considered to be damaging to the business or its reputation, threatening, insulting, false assertions of fact or to severely threaten the peaceful company atmosphere, disciplinary action may be taken by the employer.

Emphasis can be added to this rule by drawing attention to the possible consequences of breaching it, such as warnings and possible termination of employment. Comments made within a critical debate, even though they may be covered by the right to freedom of expression, also have consequences for a business. Drawing this point to the staff’s attention will sharpen their awareness.

Duty of confidentiality

Confidential company and customer information should be handled in accordance with the company’s code of conduct and other regulations. Ensure that trade secrets are protected when social media is being used.

Breach of the duty of confidentiality can have severe consequences for a business and for employees. In the case of a breach of confidentiality by an employee, an employer is entitled to terminate the employment contract without notice. The duty of confidentiality is regulated in the employment contract and applies whenever an employer’s business interests are present. In certain cases, it may be beneficial to present the duty of confidentiality in more precise terms.

Contact person

If you discover positive or negative comments about the company or its products on the internet, you may report them to [Name of contact person]. You may also contact this person, should you have any questions regarding the implementation of these guidelines.

Published: February 2011

Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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