Recently I blogged, at AICPA Insights, about the importance of social media and getting ahead of it, instead of it overwhelming you. Social media is not just a way for people to share photos of their kids and pets with friends (and the internet at large) it is also a powerful business tool that is proving to be essential to the long-term survival of a business. Because of this intersection of the personal and profession on such a public platform and especially because of the sensitive nature of a lot what the forensic accountant is involved in, it is vital to have a corporate social media policy in place.
It is nowhere near enough (and sometimes not necessarily good for business) for a company to declare that employees are not allowed to use social media while at work. In an age where most people have personal access to the internet through smartphones and tablets, a company blocking internet access on their computers is not enough to keep an employee silent on the web. And, is silence what a company wants at a time where having a social media profile is of the utmost importance to a business? Also, blanket policies are coming under fire from federal regulators. As reported in the New York Times, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has stated that workers have the right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether this conversation takes place in the workplace or via social media.
It makes more sense to figure out a way to manage the risks of social media and, as shown by the recent NLRB cases, the policy a business comes up with should be legal and specific. Beyond keeping in mind the wise words, “don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your mother, here are some things to think about:
- Forensic accountants can begin by tying their social media policy to the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct. In the same way that their work should be directed by this, so too should their social media interactions.
- The social media policy should make very clear that confidential information cannot be be disclosed. This is particularly important for practitioners involved in litigation, where a good deal of information is privileged, to be clear that this information cannot be published in social media.
- A follow up to the previous point was brought to mind by a friend who is in litigation. When working on a case where even the location of a meeting is confidential, practitioners must turn off GeoTagging in their social media. For example, someone posting a completely innocent post on Facebook may not realise that the GeoTagging that declares that he is at the Waldorf Astoria has just revealed the location of the confidential meeting he is attending.
- The social media policies of IBM and the MACPA are a good place to start. The MACPA is of particular usefulness to those in accounting, be it in litigation support or elsewhere.
- A social media policy is not set in stone; it should be updated as technologies and privacy issues change.
What is most important is to start out ahead with a social media policy, instead of trying to create rules once things have spiraled out of control. A straightforward, specific policy that recognizes the importance of social media, makes clear what is on and off limits, is legal and encourages those in the business to be innovative with the tools offered by these new and emerging technologies.