What is the ethical issue?
Social media describes the social interaction through a suite of technology based tools, many of which are internet based. It includes, but is not limited to, internet forums and networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp and blogs. Its speed and scope means that once content is published is it available instantaneously, to a potentially global audience.
Employees’ use of social media on behalf of the company, as well as their personal use, poses ethical challenges to organisations. Using social media in an irresponsible way can undermine the company’s commitment to ethical practice and expose it to integrity risk. Employees managing content on their company’s social media pages may carry a risk to their company's reputation. Alternatively, employees may post negative comments about their company on their personal profiles. Not only is this difficult to control, but it may also result in reputational damage for the organisation.
Companies need to be wary of how social media impacts their duty of care. It is hard to monitor cases of ‘cyber-bullying’, along with cases of harassment and discrimination. The challenge is determining acceptable levels of monitoring employees’ personal use of social media, while avoiding any limitations to individuals’ freedom of expression.
Companies commonly use social media to promote their products and services. The ability to interact more directly with customers is both an opportunity and a risk. It is common practice for companies to advertise their goods and services on social media, while declaring that they have promoted their advertising and/or have an interest in the company if the advertisement is published by a separate party. To prevent reputational damage, companies need to be aware of fair competition guidelines when deploying various tactics for social media advertising and be open about how they use data.
A summary of good practice
- When using social media, it is important to be mindful of your company’s reputation, the right of others to privacy, conflicts of interest and the trust which customers, suppliers and other business stakeholders place in you. Considering the risk to customers, the company, colleagues and yourself is vital when using social media, as information posted online can become global and available both permanently and for republishing.
- With regards to advertising on social media, employees can declare they are representing their company to avoid misleading consumers.
- Organisations should seek to ensure that work-related issues remain internal, by providing effective ways for employees to voice their concerns internally. This should help reduce the risk of internal company matters being discussed on public forums.