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CBA in hot water over social media policy

Friday, 4 February 2011 | By Michelle Hammond

A legal expert says start-ups can learn from the mistakes of the Commonwealth Bank, which has been criticised by the Finance Sector Union for introducing an “unfair and unworkable” social media policy.

 

The two-page policy states employees cannot “comment on, post or store any information about bank-related matters”, or speak negatively about the company. A policy breach could result in termination.

 

The policy also requires employees to report any “inappropriate or disparaging” comments made about the bank on social media sites. Staff are also require to help the company remove or delete material deemed inappropriate.

 

According to the FSU, the policy misrepresents workplace rights as it fails to acknowledge employees’ statutory rights under the Fair Work Act and Equal Opportunity legislation.

 

The CBA said in a statement that inappropriate content on social media sites could affect the company’s brand image and customer expectations. According to the bank, its social media policy enables it to better help customers.

 

“Many customer issues and complaints raised through social media channels have been resolved through staff tip-offs and we encourage our staff to continue to alert us to this feedback so we can provide customer support and outcomes,” it said.

 

The CBA is set to meet with the FSU to discuss the policy. The FSU has said in a statement the policy will need to be amended and that it should be suspended until its concerns are addressed.

 

Legal expert Peter Vitale says while the bank does have a legitimate position in that it needs to be aware of any damaging content on the internet, the policy itself is quite broad and could be open to misinterpretation.

 

“Starting from the proposition that the bank is trying to protect its legitimate interest and not impinge in the private lives of its employees... to that extent I believe the policy could stand to have some better definitions,” Vitale says.

 

Vitale says businesses adopting social media policies need to ensure they are as clear as possible, stating the CBA document may go further than simply protecting the company’s interests.

 

“There is certainly a common law for a duty of all employees to protect the interests of their employers. Theoretically, you may argue that duty extends to this kind of situation,” Vitale says.

 

But Vitale says he is unsure whether business have the right to force any employee to have a negative comment deleted from their Facebook account, particularly if it is made by a third party.

 

“There is a legitimate concern there that you are exposing employees to conditions beyond employment. There are situations where those comments may have something to do with being in a union and so on,” he says.

 

Vitale also says the policy cannot necessarily be policed very effectively.

 

“How is the bank ever going to know about this? They cannot examine the state of mind of one of its employees to see if they have knowledge of a third party saying something about the bank,” he says.

 

But Con Frantzeskos, social media expert and DDB digital strategist, says it is excellent the Commonwealth Bank has recognised the need for an all-staff social media policy.

 

“I have worked on a number of social media policies for local and global clients, and they are not a luxury, but a need – with obvious benefits,” he says.

 

“All staff social media policies should be created within a context of understanding the nature of online conversations about the organisation and identifying any needs.”

 

“Then, you set a scale for your all-staff social media policy which is very simple. On one end of the scale, you prevent your team from discussing anything relating to the company or their roles as employees – any conversations that may be related to the organisation are not to be answered.”

 

“This is the lowest risk, but almost zero return approach. On the other end of the scale, break down the walls and empower your team to speak.”

 

“This can potentially turn any member of the team into a customer service, or product ambassador and brand, advocate; higher risk but an incredibly powerful opportunity.”