When it comes to the legal side…social media, anyone?

A reputation that took decades to build can be threatened by a single event
Picture credit: Miles Mathis

It is strikingly evident that social media offers enormous marketing opportunities for business to directly interact with customers. But after Advertising Standards Bureau has ruled that the usage of social media such as Facebook fanpage, can be regarded as a “marketing communication tool” when used by an advertiser, thus all the comments and user-generated contents displayed on specific platform should be censored by the advertisers:

The Board considered that the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control and could be considered to draw the attention of a segment of the public to a product in a manner calculated to promote or oppose directly or indirectly that product .

Comparing with the extra time and staff spending on monitoring the contents generated by users and their friends, is it still worth investing on social media for business?

Complaint related to inappropriate user comments on Smirnoff”s Facebook page has raised serious concern of social media policy

Furthermore, there exist more legal risks when organization participates in social media. As a beverage manufacturer, Smirnoff has successful built up a strong fan base on Facebook through launching several interesting online events. However, their lack of moderating inappropriate comments generated by their “fans” on their Facebook page has caused them a severe outcome which even led to the ruling conducted by ASB mentioned above.

Besides the legal risk of defamation, Smirnoff may also need to take those concerns into account while engaging in social media:

• Risk of Confidential information loss or disclosure:

While many employees like to tweet about their job during or after working hours, the company needs to regulate and train their employees when posting job-related contents through social media platform.

• Risk of wrongful dismissal:

Job-related inappropriate comments made by employees on social media platform, even under personal accounts, can grant employers legal right to conduct a termination of employment.

Fair Work Commissioner Bissett:

“Posting comments about an employer on a website (Facebook) that can be seen by an uncontrollable number of people is no longer a private matter but a public comment…A Facebook posting, while initially undertaken outside working hours, does not stop once work recommences. It remains on Facebook…for anyone with permission to access the site to see…It would be foolish of employees to think they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity from any consequences. “

• Risk of Trade mark infringement:

Another Smirnoff Australia? Organizations shall make sure that their trademarked names have been reserved on social media to avoid confusion

When typing in “Smirnoff Australia Facebook” in Google search engine, this page even ranks higher than the official Facebook page of Smirnoff. Organization shall make sure that their trademarked names have been reserved on social media platform to prevent from being used to disseminate misleading or deceptive information.

• Risk of Defamation: (As illustrated above)

There was a complaint in relation to the official Facebook fanpage of Smirnoff Vodka Australia which has raised concern about user generated inappropriate contents, such as sexism, racism, discrimination or vilification, obscenity, and depiction of irresponsible drinking. After Advertising Standards Bureau effectively ruled that Diageo, Smirnoff’s parent company, is responsible for monitoring all the comments and activities on its Facebook page, it may pose another issue: do users need to take responsibility for the contents generated by them?

It is also interesting to see how companies deal with negative comments from customers. Is it the best policy to delete all negative feedback, like Westpac did? (Case study picked up by Karen) Or should company take the transparent approach in social media policy and never delete any comments?

“We have never deleted a single comment from the Kogan Facebook, Twitter, blog or YouTube pages,” Kogan Technologies founder Ruslan Kogan told StartupSmartin October last year.

My suggestions of social media policy for organization:

1. Clearly state social media policy and effective breach penalty
2. Clarify an effective plan in response to break out3. Get more staffs involved in the role of moderating contents posted on organization’s socialmedia platforms

4. “Care” (from Seth Godin) about your customers and employees.

5. Leverage between the benefit and risk of transparency on social media.


1. Using social media? Know your legal risks-by Alexandra Cain

2. Social media ruling in Smirnoff case sends shudders throughout Australia

3. Social media poses problems for beverage maker

4. Smirnoff controversy prompts Facebook comments warning

13 thoughts on “When it comes to the legal side…social media, anyone?

  1. Hi, Edie.
    In my opinion, corporation uses social media in their company who increases risks, such as business confidential information. Thus, how can corporation control social media using and decrease confidential information loss?

    • Haha 😀

      Your case study about IBM has clearly illustrated an effective approach of preventing disclosure of confidential information. However, i personally believe that nothing speaks louder than regulation and rules. Thus, a precise policy of using social media should be established and taught within the organization, in order to prohibit possible breach of organization’s benefit.

      Thanks for your reply 😀

  2. Good post
    So your company wants to implement a social media policy, but you’re not sure how to go about it. I think the best way is to have look successful examples of companies

  3. It is rather discomforting that off hand comments made on sites like facebook could cause legal issues when taken seriously by certain parties; even more so when it starts a chain of defamation in smirnoff’s case. Perhaps this will open up a job market for “internet publicity security” personnel?

    • Great post Edie. In response to bslo, the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 by organisations did open up new job opportunities. A number of hits came up in Google under Social Media Officer jobs. This is a recognition that if an organisation is serious about maintaining and even protecting their online profile, they need to assign appropriate resource to look after it.
      Your tip to social media policy is great. An organisation should not only have a social media policy, but should also continuously educate the employees about their obligations.

      • Hi Karen 😀

        I absolutely agree with you about allocating required resource to moderate online profile of organization, even it may cause an extra investment, but the opportunities and benefit of participation in social media is tremendous and with better efficiency and effectiveness.

        Thanks for your reply 😀

  4. Hi Edie.

    Perhaps the lesson i took with me after listening to Mr. Malcolm Burrows talk is that, organisations can go ahead and create social media policies (there is nothing stoping them) when going viral but more so they need to have prior to that, a social media strategy on how having a ‘social media policy’ accomplishes the business goals whist going viral.

    Would you not agree?


    • Heyyyy Thadreina 😀

      Sure I highly agree the positive outcome brought by participating in social media is enormous and effective. However I am more looking forward to seeing whether there exist certain social media policy which can positively encourage productivity of employee while train them to take responsibility of their participation on social media. 😀

      Thanks for your reply 😀

  5. If companies continue to leave negative feedback posted on their social media sites, would this create a snowball effect and would it be appropriate for other customers to be subjected to negative feedback if they have a positive outlook of the company?

    • Haha 😀 personally I think a snowball effect may be anticipated in the case since most of the audience are lack of independent and critical thinking. Since web3.0 has resulted in users apply their real identities to the virtual world(well, there still exists anonymous users), it may somehow make users feel responsible for their actions and words on the internet.

      Thanks for ur reply 😀

  6. Hi Edie. Nice post. You posed the question in your blog “comparing with the extra time and staff spending on monitoring the contents generated by users and their friends, is it still worth investing on social media for business?”. Personally, I think so. Facebook and twitter are really forms of free advertising and if used wisely an organisation could reduce the budget for other forms of advertising. Even if an extra one or two staff need to be employed solely for the purpose of mediating the social media platforms of the organisation, I think that cost is justified based on the positive influence a good social media campaign has on consumers. Keep up the great work.

  7. To delete or not delete negative comments is depend on how the organization want to deal with these comments. If you delete comments they can just comment again which is no end to this and these people will become more frustrate when their comments got deleted. I think this is a good way to deal with negative comments when you have not many of them and most of them can be considered as spam(comments that are not true about the organization or not helpful to the organization such as ranting). Another way to deal with negative comments are to answer every comments. Try to solve all the people problem related to our products or services. ALso say sorry, when our products or services have problems that make our customers unsatisfied.


    Prapat W.

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