Love them or hate them, online services such as social media and cloud computing services can be very useful and a cost-effective way to run and promote your business. But if companies (or their employees) use them in the wrong way, there can be serious, negative implications. The aim of this blog is to arm you with some of the knowledge needed to navigate the legal minefield you might find yourself in when using online services.

What is Social Media?

"Social Media" is a term used to describe a number of vastly different platforms. Most of them fall in to at least one of the following categories:

  • Blogs like Wordpress and Blogger.
  • Social Networking like LinkedIn, Facebook or even A Small World.
  • Wiki – an information database like Wikipedia, Wikitravel or Wikia.
  • MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) – Online games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life.

All of these examples are predominantly open to all with few restrictions. Many companies also make use of internal social media services like Yammer or have an internal intranet as they can be a cost effective and time efficient means for internal communication. 

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is essentially software as a service over the internet. Examples include project management tools like Basecamp, online storage tools like iCloud and office tools such as Google Docs. It’s usually not necessary to purchase or install any software; services are run through web browsers. As a result, companies don’t have to run their own application and data servers, which can result in costs savings. Cloud service providers host applications and provide the computing power from their data centres, benefiting from massive economies of scale and dramatically lowering the costs of IT service provision. But as is often the case, with every benefit comes a drawback elsewhere…

The Checklist

There are a few things you and your company should consider before using any Social Media or Cloud Computing service…

1 – Are the platform’s terms and conditions, acceptable use policy, privacy policy etc. acceptable to your company? Key things to look out for in these documents are data protection/processing issues, intellectual property rights and what happens if things go wrong. For example:

Are you happy (and able) to give Facebook a licence to the IP that you upload to Facebook pages?
Are you prepared to accept the limitation of liability applicable to use of a Twitter account?
Do you have the consent of your employees to share their data if they/you register them to use a platform on behalf of the company?
Evaluate the risks of using the service - how secure is the platform and what level of liability is the service provider accepting for this?
Gain an understanding of the key laws relating to use of social media:-defamation, deceptive or unethical marketing and advertising and promotions and competitions are the main ones to look out for.

2 – Make sure the payment model for the service is acceptable and check the level of support and guaranteed uptime for the service. Is it good value? Freemium and monthly subscription models can be cheaper in the short term but more expensive in the long term. You will also need to be wary of planned obsolesence, some service providers may refuse to support or maintain older services in order to push users to use a newer (and usually more expensive) service.    

3 – Once you’ve reviewed the platform’s policy documents and relevant laws, prepare your own cloud computing/Social Media Policy to set out the rules and/or procedures that employees must follow when using the platform, taking into account what you’ve learnt from a review of the platform’s policy documents. It might also be worth reviewing your company’s employment contracts and staff handbooks at the same time in order to see if there are any gaps that need to be filled as a result of the use of social media. One thing to point out to employees is that they should never be signing the company up to any services without sufficient managerial approval.

4 – If you make the leap into the arena of Social Media, it’s also worth considering what arrangements will be necessary to keep an eye on things. If a disgruntled client starts a smear campaign, you will need to know about it quickly and have the tools to deal with it. If you like the DIY approach, try using a solution such as Mention. If you’re a bit overwhelmed, paid-for monitoring services are available from people like Digital Visitor and Trufflenet. If you’re still struggling and can’t sleep at night, there’s even social media insurance available!

If you’re worried about any of the reviewing or drafting mentioned above, or even if you just want a chat, get in touch.We will also follow up this general overview with some more detailed articles in the near future.