Today, businesses face increasing pressures to maintain an active presence online. By interacting on social media platforms, experts say, entrepreneurs can connect with existing customers and reach out to new ones.
They can make connections with other business owners in their respective industries and learn from the posts they see every day. Without active social media sites, business owners will have trouble remaining competitive.
“With all of that pressure, it’s easy to forget that social media brings certain responsibilities for a business owner,” says attorney Robert May, founder of The May Firm.” Social media posts can be used in court, whether they’re recent or from several years ago. Whether your words inspire litigation or come up in a later unrelated case, they can be used against you.”
Here are a few things you can do to minimize your legal risk, while still remaining active online.
Images can make your social media posts stand out as customers scroll through their social media feeds. In fact, many people now use images in their posts, text-based updates can easily be missed. In sourcing your own images and videos, make sure you use your own original photos or find photos that are cleared for free use. You can also spend a little extra money to purchase high-quality professional photos from a site like iStockPhoto or Shutterstock.
Posting negative commentary about your competitors could not only start a war of words and alienate your own customers, but it could also lead to legal action. Putting statements online that you can’t prove can lead to a defamation lawsuit, even if you think those posts are in fun. Instead, focus on building your own brand up. You’ll look more professional and respectable and you’ll avoid legal troubles.
Just as false advertising can get you in trouble in traditional media, social media messages must be truthful, as well. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigates reports of misleading advertising, whether it’s posted online or broadcast on the airwaves. If you’re making promises without keeping them, the FTC can file against you in federal district court to freeze your assets, force you to stop advertising and potentially seek compensation on behalf of any victims.
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Each social media site has terms of service that regulate what members can and cannot do with the information found on the site. Using one of your customer’s posted pictures or commentary without permission could be grounds for legal action, especially if it blatantly violates the site’s terms of service. Make sure you get written permission from customers for any of the information you use and carefully review website policies to make sure you’re in compliance.
Contests and sweepstakes can be a great way to generate buzz and boost your follower counts. However, as valuable as they are for your marketing efforts, they can be dangerous. There are laws specific to contests and sweepstakes and those laws can vary by state.
To be compliant in every state, experts advise using terminology like “no purchase necessary” and “void where prohibited.” In addition to meeting legal standards, you’ll also need to make sure your contest is in line with the terms of service of the social media sites where it’s being posted.
Entrepreneurs are so busy that it can be tempting to turn social media account management over to team members or contractors. They handle the day-to-day posting and replying, freeing you up to focus on other things. However, when you trust someone else to be the voice of your business, you put your company’s reputation in that person’s hands.
If you do trust someone else to manage your social media marketing efforts, make sure it’s someone you can trust. You may also want to draw up a document listing what should and should not be posted and ask the worker to sign it. Although you’ll still be liable, you’ll reduce the impact on your company as a whole if your case does go to court.
Social media marketing can do wonders for increasing brand awareness and helping your business grow. It’s easy to post information, but it can be easy to cross legal boundaries and face consequences later. By proceeding with caution, you can remain active online without increasing your legal risks.
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