Social media has changed the way that businesses interact with their customers.  Whether the business is small or large, starting up or well established, social media provides a powerful tool to engage with customers.  With advances in technology comes risk, and some businesses are understandably concerned about the way that social media could impact upon their business.

The liquor and hospitality industry is no different. While many businesses have embraced social media encouraging followers on facebook, twitter and Instagram, businesses know the impact of a bad review. So what happens when customers feel empowered – maybe a little too empowered - to put on social media what they may tell you in person. In their opinion, was it a bad coffee? Was your café not child friendly enough? Was it a terrible steak? Or was the service bad? And now it’s on your social media page for all to see.

Here are some practical tips for dealing with social media in your small business:

  • Determine who is responsible for the post. Is it a customer or a member of staff? While detailed employment contracts are not common in the liquor and hospitality industry, policies and procedures should be followed when it comes to social media. All employees, irrespective of whether they are full time or casual, owe duties to their employer. These duties can be harder to enforce without a signed and enforceable social media policy that sets out the ownership of posts on social media, and the consequences for breaching the policy.
     
  • Have a plan for responding. Social media and IT risk should form part of any business’ risk management planning. In cases of crisis, the business will need to know how to respond rather than acting on an emotional reaction. Decide who will be responsible for responding and let them engage with the person to resolve the matter. Consider whether a private forum is better than a public forum. For example, if the information is factually incorrect is it better to respond by pointing out the inaccuracies? Are the media involved? Do you need PR advice? Can the post be dealt with in a light-hearted manner?
     
  • Should you take steps to get the content removed? – Businesses are often criticised when negative posts are removed, but where the content is of a defamatory, racist or bullying nature, the content should be immediately removed. If you can’t remove the post yourself as the administrator, contact the relevant social media provider, report the content to it, and request that it be taken down. Also check other social media sites.
     
  • Consider your legal rights.  Defamation laws extend to statements made on social media, and if it can be proven that statements are false and that loss (including loss of reputation) has been suffered, damages can follow.  Defamation laws can also extend to people who share the post or tweet.
     
  • Do let your community submit positive posts – encourage your loyal customers to post positive comments on your page. 

For more information contact:

Vittoria De Stefano
Special Counsel
Harwood Andrews
T: 03 5226
E: vdestefano@harwoodandrews.com.au