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The recent row about an anti-diversity memo written by a Google employee is a salient reminder that the growth of enterprise social networks and other related digital channels inside companies can very occasionally result in issues that may lead to employment, reputational and even legal issues.

According to the BBC, the original memo was “posted on an internal discussion board” and was subsequently leaked.  Of course, the memo could equally have been distributed by email or even through hard copy, but its presence on a discussion board has the potential to make a contentious post more easily discoverable and go viral across the organisation and, ultimately, the internet.

At first glance the growth of social networks, internal collaboration platforms, discussion boards and the ability to add unmoderated comments into intranets inside companies appears to be dripping with risk. It makes some senior executives and in-house legal teams nervous, particularly when most contributions are unmoderated.

However most of these fears prove to be completely unfounded. I’ve seen many large organisations deploy social networks and the number of incidents where there are potential examples of misuse are either negligible or even zero. The initial jitters from senior management soon dissipate.

In-house teams can play a role in bringing some common sense to the table. It helps if they are knowledgeable about the internal “digital workplace” and the channels and applications that are contained within it.   They can also ensure that all the elements are in place so risks are minimised and that there is clarity over what happens if there is willful or, more likely, mistaken misuse of a channel.

Most organisations have found that they need a robust social media policy in place that has been drafted with good legal advice, and then some digestible communications aimed at employees that align with the policy. (No one will read the policy – it’s there to fall back upon when a problem arises.)  The process for registering on to a platform or even joining the company needs to ensure that an individual has nominally seen and agreed to the social media policy.

Companies  also need to ensure anything posted by employees is attributed to an individual and that there is a clear way to report any abuse – usually a visible button. Of course, there also needs to be policies in place around e-discovery and to meet any other regulatory demands.

Ultimately if a disgruntled employee wants to be critical of a company and make some noise they can, regardless of whether a company has an internal discussion board or not. Enterprise social networking adds a lot of value to companies – driving better processes, aiding collaboration and creating flatter, less hierarchical cultures. In-house legal teams can help organisations by providing clear, sensible and measured guidance so everybody can play safely in the space and reduce senior management nerves. 

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