Can Social Media Make Your Company More Ethical?

Communicating compliance information through social media may make the message loud and clear.
David McCannAugust 4, 2015
Can Social Media Make Your Company More Ethical?

The Network, a governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) advisory firm, is on a crusade to convince companies that using social media can aid their compliance efforts.

Social MediaMany companies have for years taken advantage of social media for marketing, customer-service, and customer-intelligence purposes. But “social media” and “compliance” are rarely in the same sentence — except when the former leads to a breach of the latter.

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A common view is that it’s risky to disseminate company information to employees via such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and SnapChat, or live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope, as employees are likely to share the content with their social media contacts. In fact, some companies prohibit employees from using social media at work.

The Network, which doesn’t sell any social media technology tools but does offer training on how to use social media responsibly, wants to change that mindset. One key point is that just as companies engage successfully with customers through Facebook and Twitter, they can accomplish the same results internally.

“A compliance practitioner’s customer base is the employees,” says Tom Fox, an independent attorney and compliance expert who consults with The Network. “You can use those same tools to bring to them a new or different learning experience, rather than me as a lawyer saying ‘here is the company’s code of conduct, now read it.’ It drives into the company’s DNA the message of doing business ethically and in compliance with laws like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Plus, he points out, social media are cost-effective communication channels.

Also, companies’ efforts to prevent employees from using social media are essentially fruitless, notes Julie Moriarty, The Network’s general manager of training. Indeed, they’re increasingly regarding social media platforms as their primary communication tools.

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“If you’re trying to make ethics and compliance top of mind all the time with your employees, you’re not likely to achieve that if you leave out social media as a vehicle,” Moriarty says. “Employees are using it so much that you’d have a huge hole in your communications program.”

Regarding the potential for sensitive company information to leak out, it’s not really much of an issue when it comes to most compliance-related communications. “It is information that you would certainly be willing, or even happy, to have the public know you’re talking about inside your company,” says Fox.

Still, the need to keep private information private should not be overlooked when it comes to communicating through social media. “It’s such a casual way to communicate that people become not careful,” Moriarty says. “As an executive, you can never forget that.”

Regardless of the communications vehicle used, trade secrets or other confidential information should never be distributed to the general employee base, insists Fox. “Whatever you put on social media or in an email, you have to assume it will become public,” he says.

In fact, adds Moriarty, “You need to take the same care you’d take if you were speaking in a restaurant. It’s that test: would you want to see it on Yahoo or in a newspaper?”

Social media can help drive compliance in a variety of ways. For example, says Fox, “It is certainly appropriate for a CFO to use it to communicate to the sales force the rules of revenue recognition that are set by accounting regulators, so that they don’t do inappropriate things to rev up their numbers at the end of a quarter.”

But if a company distributes information to employees through, say Twitter, won’t a lot of them — especially those who follow hundreds of other Twitter users and haven’t set up a specific feed for company communications — miss the message? “No,” says Fox. “No medium should be the medium you use. It’s one among many mediums you use.”

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