Think about what your life would be like if all social media sites disappeared tomorrow. You wouldn’t be able to use email, and there would be no such thing as a blog. What would you do? More important, what are the things you wouldn’t be able to do if the internet just disappeared overnight? On a personal level, we’d lose one of our most important methods for staying in touch with friends, family and colleagues. Professionally, we’d have to hike across office campuses or around offices for five-minute conversations with colleagues. Collaboration across departments and facilities on different continents? Sure, there are phones but no videoconferencing, no webcasts, no live streaming information. And what about our company? No corporate websites to highlight our products, no social media sites to solicit input from our customers, no corporate blogs to open different communication channels.
It’s not a pretty picture to think about our personal lives without Twitter and Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. From a corporate perspective, it’s just as disturbing to think about running a business without email, corporate websites, a presence on social media and YouTube. But as important as social media and communication technology have become to us as individuals, employees and a company, the tools carry risks and responsibilities for all of us.
A New World of Risk and Responsibility
We’ve all heard horror stories about the tragic consequences of bullying on social media sites. We know that criminals look for the smallest tear in our security systems to access confidential information. We’ve seen unscrupulous people divulge personal information about colleagues, neighbors and former friends. We’ve all read comments that people probably wouldn’t have said if they’d been standing in front of the people they were insulting. And, some of us have had to live with – and try to live down – photos taken during Spring Break 10 years ago, photos that didn’t quite fit in with our new lives as attorneys, executives, IT professionals, etc.
The laws regulating the use of social media change as quickly as the technology itself. A derogatory comment about an employer on Facebook in France may be considered a discussion among friends; in the Netherlands, it could be considered cause for rescission of an employment contract. In the US, questions remain open based on what was said, when and where it was posted and to whom it was communicated.
As a company, BBNC encourages our employees to express their opinions, collaborate with colleagues, make use of the most dynamic technologies, and stay in touch with their personal contacts. We also want to protect our employees from bullying, discrimination and retaliation; our customers from loss of confidential information and personal attacks; and our company from loss of confidential information, shareholder data and reputation.
Our Policy Library includes a policy devoted to social networking and is updated as quickly as possible to remain current with fast-changing laws and regulations. We encourage all employees to become familiar with our company’s policies on the use of the internet and social networking sites by employees. Beyond that, we believe there are a few points that are especially important for all of us to remember. They are standards that are in keeping with our company, our culture and our policies. Most important, they reflect the behaviors already embraced by our employees in the way we interact and communicate “off the web” with customers, colleagues, friends and even those we don’t like.
What We Say Matters
There can be a thin line between the right to freedom of speech and the right to privacy. In many countries, including the US, the courts and regulatory agencies are trying to come up with precise standards that will protect both rights. Until those regulations are issued, it is important for us to follow the same standards we have in all other types of communication and interpersonal interaction. Here are some specifics:
-There are a few cautions that sound as though they should have been retired years ago but they manage to remain relevant when considering what to say and what not to say. “If you don’t want to see it on the front of the New York Times (or the Huffington Post or YouTube), don’t post it.” The second one is just as familiar, “If you put it on the internet, it lives forever.” Neither of those is a “rule” but remembering them has saved a lot of people from potential long-term damage to their reputations, employment prospects, financial health and relationships.
-Discrimination, retaliation, defamation, false accusations and bullying are all unacceptable, no matter if they are delivered on a street corner, in the office, over the phone or online. While there are legal distinctions now being argued in courts about comments made on private channels and public ones, such actions are incompatible with our company’s culture.
-Making anonymous, derogatory comments about a competitor’s products is out of line. Many of us rely on customer reviews of products before buying them. We welcome honest reviews of our products from customers for several reasons. Even negative reviews are worthwhile because they give us the opportunity to reexamine our products or packaging, redesign our messaging or website, and improve our customer service. Reviews should be honest, accurate and attributable, whether they are directed to us or anyone else.
-Much of the information about our company is publicly available through our website, SEC filings and annual reports. Customers, competitors, colleagues and the curious are all welcome to this information. Some of our company’s data including trade secrets, corporate strategies and many other types of information are protected and cannot be disclosed, whether in person or on line. Posting plans about mergers and acquisitions, investigations, or Board of Director actions may be both unethical and illegal.
-There are many formats for communicating through the internet, from internal emails and the company’s intranet to personal pages such as Facebook, personal blogs, and open-access sites like YouTube. It is important to distinguish between what you say as an individual when you are writing a blog, responding or linking it to other sites and what you are saying as a representative of our company. Again, there’s that fine line between the right to privacy and to freedom of speech. Because the laws about where that line “is” differ in different places, it’s important for you to check with the Code of Conduct or our CCO if you have any questions about any restrictions or expectations concerning different channels and formats.
What We See
One of the potential problems facing companies is the type of material that can be downloaded onto corporate devices or even displayed to colleagues. Security is an obvious concern when discussing downloads of any type but there are other issues that relate to the material being downloaded. Consider these kinds of materials:
-Sexually suggestive wallpaper
-A racist screensaver
-Illegal downloads of books, music or movies
Unfortunately, some industry-wide surveys indicate that these types of inappropriate downloads occur much more frequently than we would expect. They represent an offense to our other employees and a potential legal risk to BBNC – and they violate our corporate policies, integrity and reputation.
An Ethical Approach
The Internet and social media sites have expanded our thinking, spurred innovation and introduced opportunities unimaginable just a decade ago. They will never become “less” important to our personal and professional lives. They will never be “less” important to our company in communicating with our clients, shareholders and business community. We will continue to update our policies as the technology, laws and risks evolve. Some things will change. What won’t change is BBNC’s belief in our company’s culture and our commitment to ethical behavior, legal compliance and online good manners.