April 30, 2012

Yours, Mine, and Ours: At What Point Did My Social Media Privacy Become Your Business?

social media speechEver hear the advice, “You should never mix business with pleasure”?  Is social media for business, or pleasure?  If managed responsibly, both. But, if it is abused, mixing the two can result in a breach of privacy and a lawsuit.

Companies are increasingly using social media profiles as a way to reach consumers, businesses, and potential job candidates. A 2011 study of social media adoption by the University of Massachusetts found that 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a Twitter account, and 58 percent have a Facebook account. These accounts are intended solely for business. Employees can publicly curate the content. They can even link their own personal accounts. This is where the division of personal and business becomes blurred — when companies allow employees to curate a customer following with their personal social networks.

When personal social media accounts are leveraged for the company’s marketing plan, what rights does the employee have when it’s come to privacy? A case regarding this issue involves the former employee of Susan Fredman Design Group, a Chicago-based interior design company. As the Director of Marketing, PR, and E-Commerce, the employee used both her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts to endorse and promote the company. When she became incapacitated from an injury to administer the accounts daily, the company announced to the followers that she would no longer be handling the account, but kept her accounts active for company use. After her request was denied to stop updating via her accounts, she left the company altogether and filed a lawsuit.

Though violations of infringement and online security were filed, the biggest issue was whether or not the company violated her privacy via her personal accounts. The court eventually ruled in favor of the company, insisting that for social media, “persons cannot reasonably maintain an expectation of privacy in that which they display openly.”

Although social media profiles are meant to be public tools, employees should have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The company allowed her to use her personal accounts to promote the business. They took advantage of her use of social media; that doesn’t suddenly give companies an extension of complete control.

Companies must realize that mixing personal employee accounts with business is a breach of privacy and abuse of authority. A strict policy that defines employee rights on social media, and separates personal and company property online, must be adopted before more employees are stripped of their ability to have any social media freedoms.

What do you think? How do you feel about the court’s ruling?? What do you think companies should do to prevent these cases? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Tony Morrison is the Vice President of Business Development at Cachinko. Cachinko creates employer-branded career applications. It helps employers leverage Facebook and other social networking platforms to find, attract, and engage their next rock star candidates, and it helps job seekers find a job they’ll love through friends they know and trust.