Minimizing risks of social media to maximize benefit

Social media — blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and the like — may be tricky to deal with for corporate America, but it's not going away, so deal with it.

That was the message from a panel sponsored by the local chapter of the American Marketing Association.

Social media poses opportunities and risks, and the panel focused on common-sense ways to contain the risks.

Those risks include: employees disclosing sensitive information, disparaging the company or its customers, harassing or insulting managers or other employees, showing themselves acting unprofessionally, and spending excessive amounts of time on social media when they are supposed to be working.

Trish Thelen, a partner at law firm Foulston Siefkin, has started practicing in this area as companies ask for help.

Facebook can move messages to millions far faster than even television, she said.

"The immediacy of information is unbelievable," she said. "But with that immediacy of information, you have problems."

When people complain about the boss to their "friends" on Facebook, that can rapidly get around and come back to bite the employee.

A third of people don't give any thought to how it affects them or their employer, Thelen said. And 60 percent don't think their company has a policy or know what the policy is.

A policy is important because employees of private employers do not have a constitutional right to free speech when it comes to disparaging co-workers or the company.

And Kansas also allows employers to discipline workers for what they put on social networks in hours off work, if it applies to the company.

Doug Oliver, director of corporate communications for Cessna Aircraft, and Jarrod Bartlett of Boeing Wichita said their companies have developed policies and are slowly learning to use social media.

Lou Heldman, distinguished senior fellow at Wichita State University and moderator for the event, said that not every company needs a policy.

Small, established companies probably don't need one. He recommended as an easy template to write a policy.

"There is no one-size-fits-all policy," he said. "It has to be adapted to your company, your culture, your strategy, your customers."