Protecting your business in social spaces
"Make sure you have a social media crisis plan in place ahead of time."
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Hi. I'm Tegan Jones for the Wells Fargo Business Insight Series. Today we're discussing how small business owners can protect themselves against lawsuits in the social space. Joining me is Anita Campbell, founder and CEO of SmallBizTrends.com. Thanks for joining me, Anita.
Thanks for having me, Tegan.
I know a lot goes into creating a successful social media strategy, from choosing where you want to participate to deciding what you want to say. And one important part of that process is looking into the potential legal issues that can come along with promoting your business in social media. So can you start by outlining some of the common legal challenges small business owners can face when using social media for business?
Well, lawmakers and the courts are still trying to determine how to navigate the legalities in this area. Social media is an evolving area, and you should always check with your own legal counsel. But that said, there are some common issues that do tend to come up that I can talk about in a general way.
So first of all, whenever you're dealing with sharing content online, a common issue that arises is that of copyright infringement, and any kind of intellectual property infringement. So we see this a lot when sharing images, for example, of photographs that you find online. A lot of people think that just because an image appears on a social sharing site such as Flickr that it's okay to use it on your own site, and that’s not necessarily the case.
You really have to look and see whether it's open for public use or not. And, you know, obviously whenever in doubt, you should be purchasing an image rather than just grabbing something off the Internet. This is something to talk with your attorney about upfront and get clear what are the guidelines for using images.
Another thing is sharing content. We see this a lot. It's not okay to just grab content from some other site and then republish it on your own site. Now, some site owners might not mind, but the point is, it's going to be up to those site owners to determine whether or not they allow that content to be republished. You should always request permission to republish if you want to republish something in full.
Now, another issue is failing to provide full disclosure. The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, requires businesses to identify when something is being sponsored, for example, when money is exchanging hands in order to give a review of a product or for visibility of a product, and so that's something to be very aware of, whether you're the sponsor or whether you're on the other side and you're actually the one receiving the money. You always need to be open, transparent, disclose the fact that this is some kind of a sponsored type of event.
Now, another issue is failing to establish ownership of your social media asset, such as user name and password. Now, we see this a lot. You know, you might have an employee who sets up the company Facebook page, or sometimes an outside agency. And then what happens if you stop using that agency's services, or what happens if the employee leaves, and perhaps not under the best of circumstances? So you always want to make sure that someone else in the company has passwords and actually has administrative authority for these social accounts.
The final thing I'll mention, and that is you have to check the terms and conditions of social sites. Twitter has very specific rules when it comes to, you know, promoting of tweets. For example, let's say you're running a promotion and you think, oh, it's going to be a great idea; we're just going to tweet out this special discount every 60 minutes for the next two weeks.
Well, on Twitter you can't do that because Twitter will very likely consider that to be spam. They might suspend your account. So my point about all of this is understand the rules. Be sure to check the terms and conditions of any social sites you're using and know what the rules of the game are, if you will.
I'd like to go back for a minute to talk a little bit more about employees, about businesses that may have put employees in charge of managing specific social accounts. How can business owners educate their staff about, you know, the potential pitfalls, like you just mentioned, and really help them avoid those in the social space?
I would say the first thing is, you know, to sit down and have regular meetings with your staff to discuss what's acceptable, what is not acceptable when it comes to talking online. For example, confidential customer information should never be discussed on social media sites. You know, so those are the types of things, you know, very sensitive situations that your employees need to be aware of upfront and, you know, you need to have an open dialogue with them, discuss what's acceptable, what isn't, and give examples. You know, it always helps to give specific examples: do this, do not do this.
That sounds like a great start, but I know that sometimes even with the best planning things can come up. Do you have any tips to offer about how small business owners can deal with a social media crisis, if it should arise?
Yes. Well, the first thing is the time to plan for a crisis is not in the middle of a crisis. You definitely want to have a social media crisis management plan set up ahead of time. And this can, you know, simply be a one-pager that describes what's going to happen in the event that a sensitive situation did occur, and the company needed to jump in.
So let's give an example. Let's say that someone said something that was, let's say, racially sensitive on a social account, and it was not authorized by the company. Well, you know, you're going to need to jump on that very quickly. The worst thing that can happen in a crisis is that you let things go, so you need to be able to hit the ground running on that.
And you want to know who is in charge. Have a list of all the administrators and all the social channels that you have, and also have the ability for someone to go in and update those channels and address situations. You should also outline how each administrator should deal with the situation in case some kind of infraction occurs.
That's great, Anita. I know working with an attorney can make all the difference when it comes to dealing with these types of situations. Can you share some of the insights an attorney can provide?
In any legal situation or anything that has legal implications, you always want to talk to your own legal counsel. I can't emphasize that enough. Because your own legal counsel will be able to delve into the individual facts and circumstances with you and be able to advise you specifically on that situation.
That's really great advice, Anita. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
Well, thank you very much. My pleasure, Tegan.
And thank you for joining us for this segment of the Wells Fargo Business Insight Series. To learn more about how Wells Fargo business banking can help you, visit WellsFargo.com/biz. In the meantime, we wish you continued success.