Social Media Scrabble.jpgConventional wisdom directs companies to implement social media policy to eliminate or otherwise reduce the risks involved with social media. But a social media policy is only effective if it is followed by a company’s employees. And the sweet spot for increasing compliance with such a policy is by showing individual employees why they have equally compelling reasons for exercising care and “best practices” in their personal and professional social media lives.

Consider the following examples:  

  • Andrew Shirvell, a former Michigan assistant attorney general was fired, mocked on the Daily Show, and eventually sued in federal court for for his blogging endeavors. Specifically, Mr. Shirvell published a blog that focused on the former student body president at the University of Michigan, Chris Armstong. Mr. Armstrong is openly gay and Mr. Shirvell blogged that Mr. Armstrong was promoting a “radical homosexual agenda” and referred to him as a “gay Nazi.” In discharging Mr. Shirvell, the Michigan AG’s office accused him of using his employer provided computer for blogging and Facebook posting and later lying to investigators about it. Mr. Armstrong’s suit against Mr. Shirvell (Complaint (PDF) originally filed in state court and removed to federal) asserts claims of defamation, invasion of privacy claims, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, stalking, pending in the Eastern District of Michigan.    
  • Dr. Lazar Greenfield, an accomplished University of Michigan surgeon, made headlines earlier this year and later resigned as president elect from a national surgeon’s group after his February 2011 editorial suggesting that “semen” was a “better gift” than chocolates for women on Valentine’s Day. This editorial and the entire February issue of Surgery News was pulled from the Web after complaints flooded the American College of Surgeons.  
  • A female middle school teacher was discharged in 2010 after photographs of her engaged in a simulated act of fellatio with a male mannequin appeared on an Internet website (Land v. L’anse Creuse Pub. Schs. Bd. of Educ.). These pictures were taken during non-working hours and at a bachelorette party. The discharge was later reversed by the Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission and affirmed by the Michigan Court of appeals, but only after a a prolonged litigation process that was witnessed, at a minimum, by school employees, students, and parents.

These examples are a sobering reminder of the social media legal risks and embarrassment waiting for employers vis-a-vis their employees. There should be no pretense that a social media policy – even a very good policy – will completely eliminate either. It cannot. But by building on the shared interests of the employer and the employee, companies can increase the likelihood that a company social media policy will be followed.


Instead of simply directing individual employees to follow a social media policy in the abstract, make it personal. That is to say, use the above examples to appeal to the individuals’ self-interest i.e., show why the policy is intended to help the individual to avoid social media missteps. This will, of course, help the company do the same.

Also, to avoid a situation similar to the Shirvell matter, it is important for employees to understand that employer provided computers and resources are not to be used for non-company related social media activities.