This post adopts a different approach to usual. In it I share 5 key social media risks and offer pragmatic advice to help you manage the inherent risks.
1 – Posts on behalf of the firm
The biggest risk here is of boring your intended audience! Social media encourages interaction. This happens less frequently when the posts are not attributable to a specific person.
If you or a social media manager post in the name of the firm, you just want to ensure they don’t give, share or repeat dubious advice. You should give them clear guidance by reference to your firm’s strategy – and this will probably vary across different platforms. I’ve addressed this on previous blog posts.
I would also discourage you from saying “I” in any messages posted in the firm’s name. Will anyone know who “I” is?
2 – What you post yourself
Keep it professional and only give advice in direct personal messages to clients. You probably don’t owe a duty of care to strangers who might see and act on your advice posted on social media. But you want to avoid having to defend any allegations they might make that your advice was wrong.
You also want to avoid getting into public arguments over the advice or views you have shared on social media. Beware of the potential impact on your reputation. Keep it positive if you can.
Over the years I have become used to receiving feedback in respect of advice I share online. I tend to be very careful to avoid giving definitive advice as so much depends on context. This also means that I can generally diffuse any challenges I receive by accepting that another view may be valid in certain circumstances. What I never do is get into public arguments. If someone seems determined to pursue an argument I will allow them to have the last word. I prefer to allow my professional approach to speak for my reputation than my desire to have the last word and, in so doing, to encourage trolls.
You will also want to avoid breaching client confidences, sharing details of client meetings (that identify the client) of the advice you have given them. Remember that some social media platforms tag your messages with your location. So avoid posting anything from a client’s premises (or anywhere nearby) if you don’t want them to be identified.
3 – What staff and colleagues post
The same principles apply here as for your own posts of course. You will want to encourage professional behaviour, for everyone to accept responsibility and to be accountable for what they post online.
I also encourage accountants to consider whether they want everyone in the firm to be consistent in their descriptions and references to the firm, services and the nature of their roles on their social media profiles (especially Linkedin).
4 – What third parties post
More and more people use social media to complain about poor service. Would you want to know if someone is trashing your firm’s reputation?
Fortunately it is less likely to happen if you aren’t a big well known brand. But anyone (including ex-members of staff) could post a message of dissatisfaction about you or your firm. There’s rarely anything you can do to stop this. But you can reduce the impact by considering whether or not to reply in real time. This means reviewing any such references.
You can set up automated alerts to notify you when your firm’s name is referenced online (e.g.: google alerts). You can also set up a standard search on twitter to check every day or so.
If anyone has posted something negative you can then decide if it’s best ignored or if a comment/reply would be appropriate.
5 – Absence of social media policies
The more people there are in your firm the more likely you will want to establish social media policies for staff and partners.
Absence of policies and guidelines make it more difficult to take action if someone does something stupid. The normal employment rules apply as regards the actions you can and cannot take by reference to staff use of social media.
There is little point in just imposing social media policies without discussion. You need everyone to accept that the policies make sense and are practical. If they are onerous, impractical or unreasonable your policies could cause more problems than they solve.
Social media policies should address acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on social media generally. And then specifically: recruitment, bullying, defamation, data protection and privacy.