Make sure you’re not stumbling into a legal minefield when you take the social networking path. Nothing spreads faster than bad news online, and you need to make sure that you don’t run afoul of applicable laws.
There are specific categories of legal risk you need to be aware of online. Let’s look at them one by one:
- Defamation: It’s all too easy to post defamatory content on the spur of the moment; something about the perceived anonymity of the net makes us all a little more trigger-happy. Remind everyone who is posting on your company’s behalf to be gun-shy; legal cases have been fought and won on the basis of inflammatory online speech. Similarly, watch out for defamatory remarks about your brand and respond through legal channels before they become widely spread and you have a PR nightmare.
- Confidentiality: If your employees are blogging or posting about business, make sure they are aware of confidentiality. Avoid posting about any other employee, vendor, partner or client without their express permission. Watch out for trade secrets being let out and for potential breaches of data secrecy laws.
- Copyright: Make sure you don’t use copyrighted content without permission – people assume it doesn’t matter if it is online. But copyright holders look out for such breaches and a take down notice or legal action can generate negative publicity.
- Abusive speech, obscene material, bullying: you have to be especially careful about these when you host a community. You must have a way to report abusive speech, but also institute a prominent and legally solid policy that states you do not have control or liability over everything posted by community members.
- Trademark infringement: Again, you should be very careful to do this yourself and also look out for others infringing your trademark.
There are two key ways to avoid legal problems online:
- Orientation: Institute a clear policy for the use of social media, educate your employees and offer regular re-training
- Vigilance: Keep an eye on your own social channels and also set up Google Alerts or hire a media monitoring company to keep an eye on potential issues.
Also, remember that you can’t control everything; you will face some amount of minor slagging or grey-area usage of your trademarks. Don’t react to everything, or you’ll waste time and energy that could be better spent. It makes sense to work with a partner who can help you negotiate the legal niceties and distinguish fair use or insignificant violations from something serious; a partner like the i-Vista Digital Marketing team.