Eight items to consider when drafting a social media policy

By Chad Finkelstein
August 11, 2011
social media

While many large restaurant franchisors may prefer to forbid their franchisees from administering their own social media profiles in order for the franchisor to control the brand, some smaller or emerging franchisors may want to consider the benefits of this marketing technique. If a franchisor is going to permit its franchisees to maintain a presence for their respective stores on sites like Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Groupon, or anything similar, that franchisor would be well advised to attach a social media policy to its franchise agreement.

That social media policy should, of course, be customized to reflect a balance between the degree of control the franchisor wants to retain and the independence it wants the franchisee to exercise in reaching out to potential customers. In particular, the following items should be considered as part of drafting any social media policy:

  1. Creating a strict format for online profiles that must be adhered to consistently
  2. Providing the franchisor with all account information, including passwords
  3. Ensuring the franchisee clearly identifies itself as a separate entity who is not representing the franchisor
  4. Displaying a link to the franchisor’s main website
  5. The method by which the franchisor will have the opportunity to approve what is posted and what must be removed
  6. Prohibiting the franchisee from making any defamatory statements about the franchisor and, possibly, the franchisor’s competitors
  7. Ensuring that the franchisee has permission to post any content which it does not own, such as videos, music and trademarks
  8. Operating the particular social media profile in compliance with that Website’s rules and standards
Perhaps most important to a franchisor will be settling on a method by which the franchisor, or its franchisees, will respond to negative comments posted by users. This will be a business decision for the franchisor depending on whether it prefers to acknowledge each such critique, allow for the free flow of discourse or remove such offending statements entirely.

There are many marketing advantages in a cohesive social media strategy that can benefit the franchise system as a whole; however franchisors must weigh those benefits against the control of the brand which they may be forfeiting to a certain degree.

Social media can be an invaluable marketing tool for promoting a particular franchise brand. However, a franchisor’s establishment of a social media profile

is not as simple as an individual’s registration of a Facebook or Twitter account. There are multiple variables that need to be considered when implementing a social media page for a franchise, and one that franchisors should always be mindful of is privacy law.

Personal information privacy law exists in Canada to protect individuals from the collection, disclosure, use and retention of their personal information. “Personal information” is generally understood to mean information about an identifiable individual, but does not include the name, title, or business address or telephone number of an employee of an organization. This is the reason for the existence of those privacy policies which you may have seen on company websites or have been required to “accept” before proceeding with your online navigation.

Franchisors should have a privacy policy incorporated as part of their franchise agreement or operations manual which franchisees are required to comply with. However, the situation can be less clear-cut in the context of social media communications.

It is critical for franchisors (or authorized franchisees) who maintain social media profiles to not post the personal information of individual customers, users, followers or ‘friends’.  Despite the familiarity with customers that social media breeds, the disclosure of an individual’s personal information online may exceed the approval that was contemplated by the privacy policy, since the individual likely never consented to a privacy policy while browsing the franchise’s Facebook page, for instance. This is especially tricky when users or customers post comments to a franchisor’s social media account, which may warrant a response.

Employees of franchisors who are responsible for posting material online should be made aware of the liability they may be exposing franchisors or franchisees to by not adhering to these laws.  Failure to do so may result in a penalty under federal privacy legislation.

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About the author

Chad Finkelstein is a franchise lawyer at Dale & Lessmann LLP in Toronto and can be reached at cfinkelstein@dalelessmann.com or (416) 369-7883. For more information, please visit  www.dalelessmann.com/practice-area/franchise-and-distribution-law.

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