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A glass of beer sits on the bar as manager Ryan McGregor pours another drink at Canoe Brewpub in Victoria. (Deddeda Stemler)
A glass of beer sits on the bar as manager Ryan McGregor pours another drink at Canoe Brewpub in Victoria. (Deddeda Stemler)

Start: Tony Wilson

This two-beer argument is solved Add to ...

Nick Paumgartem wrote an amusing blog in the New Yorker this week entitled the “ Top Ten Two-Beer Arguments of 2010,” listing, you guessed it, the 10 topics you could argue about over at least two beers in a bar.

The drinking and driving laws have recently changed here in B.C., so I might have to limit my argument to one beer (or better yet, two bottles of Pinot Noir … but take the Skytrain home). You get the idea.

Besides the arguments that would get lots of discussion in the U.S., but would only be “two-sip arguments” in Canada – such as “whether Obama is a socialist” (who cares) or “whether everything wrong in America is the Republican’s fault” (yes) – only No. 7 caught my eye for this column.

No. 7 Two-Beer argument for 2010 was: “Whether it is futile to continue to act as though Facebook and Twitter do not exist.”

Try as you might, you can’t pretend Facebook and Twitter don’t exist any more, especially if you’re in a small business and you were hoping social media would go the way of VCRs, Hummers and disco. It’s not going away. When my own law firm has a Facebook page, which it does, I can assure you social media is here to stay. Mark Zuckerberg may not be the nicest guy, but Hollywood is making movies about him (not me), and Time magazine just made him (not you) “ Person of the Year.”

Facebook has 500 million members, and if it were a country, it would be the third largest in the world after China and India. Your customers over the age of 39 might not care whether your business has a social media presence on Facebook, but be assured of this: your customers under 39 will, and there are more and more of them buying more and more of the products and services you sell. So resistance, as they say, is futile.

Get with the program.

One reason to get your Facebook act together for 2011 is that more and more of your customers will be looking for (scratch that – they will be expecting to see) your Facebook presence to assess what your company is doing, who it’s donating to this Christmas, what special promotions are available online, and what’s new in terms of the products or services you’re selling because they see them as important. That’s why they’re looking for you on Facebook.

Another reason to get your social media act together in 2011 has to do with your employees. Using social media is a great way to recruit new employees to work for you through the networks established by your current ones, but only if you’re trying to attract smart, hard-working and technologically and media savvy workers who want to move up in your business and add value to it. If you just want workers who don’t think for themselves or care much about what they do, then I guess you might let it go for a few more years ... if you’re still in business.

As I said last column, although you might try to ban social media use by your employees on company computers and company cellphones, it’s almost impossible to ban social media use by your employees on their own devices, especially when banning social networking will only drive them into the loving arms of employers who will allow them to participate in social media platforms. Exceptions might be terrorist organizations, nuclear weapons manufacturers or international espionage organizations, where banning all social media use might be a good policy. That is, until WikiLeaks finds their “cables.”

So what do you do about your employees and contractors to get at least some control over what they say and do online?

First, always have a written employment or independent contractor agreement with them. Whether it’s three paragraphs long or 12 pages, put it in writing. Why? Well, for one thing, the written agreements are always easier to enforce than the non-written ones.

Secondly, in addition to all that mundane stuff about hours of work, health benefits, salary and what notice you give them if you have to let them go, you can include covenants of confidentiality so legally they know that divulging your confidential information will have legal consequences, such as immediate termination or worse (perhaps all their office colleagues will “unlike” them).

Contract provisions could be attached to your employment document dealing with Internet and social media use, but I tend to see these matters covered in office policies that employees “sign off on” at the hiring, acknowledging they have read the policy and will abide by it.

The policy might say no social media use on office equipment during business hours. But then what do you do about social media use after working hours on their own devices? You might not care as long as your company’s name is not mentioned and they otherwise refrain from identifying themselves online as employees of XYZ Company.

There are some free online policies out there that some providers offer as a way for you to use their other services for a fee, and to be frank, they aren’t bad. A written policy is always better than an unwritten policy (or no policy at all).

Rather than simply copying the social media policy I’ve used for clients (a variation of which I reproduced for my book, Manage Your On Line Reputation, which is not free), let me guide you to the two best social media policies I saw when I was researching the book:

The first is Intel’s, the second is IBM’s.

Both are moderate, easily understood and well-thought-out documents that strike a balance between an employer’s need to protect its image, its brand and its reputation from inappropriate and malicious social media use, while at the same time encouraging responsible use of social media platforms by employees and contractors.

They are well worth reading.

I’d say I’ve solved this two-beer argument.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Vancouver franchise lawyer Tony Wilson is the author of Buying A Franchise In Canada – Understanding and Negotiating Your Franchise Agreement and he is ranked as a leading Canadian franchise lawyer by LEXPERT. He is head of the Franchise Law Group at Boughton Law Corp. in Vancouver and acts for both franchisors and franchisees across Canada, many of whom are in the food services and hospitality industry. He is a registered Trademark Agent, an Adjunct Professor at Simon Fraser University and he also writes for Bartalk and Canadian Lawyer magazines.

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