Social Media Marketers, Keep it Legal

DISCLAIMER: This blog is written as a guideline to highlight legal issues when integrating social media into a business. We are not attorneys nor has this been reviewed by an attorney; this should not be considered legal advice.

More businesses are using social media as a marketing and public relations tool to communicate with loyal and prospective customers. As with any business communication tool, there are guidelines that should be followed when using social media, and legal ramifications are possible if certain rules are not observed.

To stay out of legal trouble while communicating via social media, here are seven issues to keep in mind:

1.     Copyright infringement/intellectual property. Do not use another person’s intellectual property without their written permission or providing attribution. Publishing somebody else’s content as your own is unethical and illegal. Copyright infringement can lead to major legal and financial ramifications. Just as it is unacceptable to plagiarize when writing a school paper or an article in a trade publication, the same rules apply to posting social media content.

2.     Privacy rights. Do not use images or video of people without written or electronically transmitted permission. Using photographs or anything of the sort without consent is a violation of the subject’s privacy.

3.     Confidentiality/proprietary information. Do not post confidential or proprietary information, unless you have written consent. Employees may have extensive knowledge of company, client, vendor and partner information; it is important to note that some of this information should not be broadcast publicly.

4.     Honesty. Be as honest and accurate as possible when posting information about a company. Content posted on the Web never truly goes away. Not only will the lack of honesty and accuracy ruin a company’s reputation, but it can also be grounds for litigation.

5.     Competitive positioning. Never post slander about a competitor via social media. Communicating false information can result in a lawsuit. Facts and opinions about competitors are acceptable, as long as they are professional.

6.     Industry regulations. Be conscious and inform employees of your industry’s legal guidelines and parameters. For instance, those in the healthcare industry must be compliant with HIPAA; lawyers must follow state Bar Association rules, etc.

7.     Disclosure. Companies must reveal whether they have received free products or incentives of any kind that may have influenced a positive endorsement of a brand or product, according to new FTC Endorsement Guidelines. Bloggers and other journalists must also disclose that they have received incentive for positive endorsements.

Remember, anything posted online may be used as legal evidence. Ensure the content you post is something you would want everyone to see, forever.

The first step in safeguarding your company against legal issues is to have a company social media policy and ensure employees are familiar with it. An established policy will help guide social media use and will ensure that all communications are in compliance. There are many areas that should be covered in a policy, including but not limited to:

  • All the items listed above
  • Employee online code of conduct
  • Content approval process
  • Personnel approved to post to company social media accounts
  • How to handle negative comments or misinformation
  • Compliance with terms of use of the sites
  • Language/pornography/slander
  • Goals/strategy/tactics
  • Established voice

As with any business practice, it is best to be proactive and set policies and parameters for your company’s social media use so that there are no unfortunate issues, or worse, legal tanglings.

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