Ensuring Best Practices with Social Media

by Whitney Waldenberg

Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness and advancing the cause of a nonprofit business.  However, the perks of instant (and global) publication are accompanied by significant legal risks that are rarely considered.  After all, an employer can be held liable for the actions of its employees, and that could include online activity.  Nonprofits should be aware of these risks, and should educate their employees on the importance of exercising caution in publishing information over the internet.   

Consider the following risks associated with social media use, and whether your organization is educated about them:

  • Inadvertent Disclosure of Confidential Information—such as trade secrets, HIPAA, or even donor identification information
  • Trademark or Copyright Infringement—it’s just so easy to copy and paste, but does your organization have permission?
  • Inaccuracies—with the increased speed of publication, information may not be appropriately vetted before hitting the “post” button, and there is an increased risk of factual misrepresentation
  • Problematic posts by volunteers for the organization—consider the “passionate” volunteer or the rogue volunteer, how do you handle their use (or misuse) of social media?
  • Harassment or Bullying among employees—an organization may already have a general policy in place for dealing with these highly sensitive situations, but does it adequately address the realm of social media?
  • Brand disparagement—not only can online statements about an organization be harmful, an employee’s behavior online may reflect just as poorly on the organization

In an age where we are all quick to publish almost anything to the world, it may be beneficial for the nonprofit organization to adopt a social media policy for its employees. A nonprofit organization should also consider a plan of action for handling the range of potential missteps by employees, as quick action is often necessary curb bad publicity caused by a careless keystroke. 

With the right parameters in place, and these issues in mind, your organization can ensure that the use of social media always serves the best interest of the corporation. 

Bottom Line:Although many consider social media to be “communication lite”, how it is used can have deep legal implications that should be considered BEFORE sending out messages.

Whitney.Waldenberg is a commercial litigation attorney with Troutman Sanders, LLP in Raleigh. She has extensive experience representing individuals and corporations in complex business disputes. She is also an incoming board member of the Raleigh Professional Women’s Forum and serves on the nominating team for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year Campaign.

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