Legal Tips for Businesses: Social Media Stumbling Blocks

October 6, 2022

Social media is an incredibly important tool for growing your business, and when used effectively it can give your business a real boost. However, it can also go horribly wrong - there have been a number of highly publicised PR disasters in recent years, resulting in reputational damage to those brands.

Certain regulations apply to prevent the dissemination of illegal or inappropriate information, and rules also exist to govern the use of social media for advertising and promotions.

There are a number of different scenarios in which social media may be used by your business:

  • You may upload content, such as blogs, to your own site;
  • Staff may use third-party sites such as Facebook or Instagram to promote your brand
  • Third parties may refer to your business or products on their own social media pages.

So, how can you limit your potential risk when engaging with social media as a business?

Social media on your company website

When leveraging social media for the benefit of your company website, you'll need to tick off a few legal requirements before starting. Let's break these down.

Firstly, ensure you have terms of use and a privacy policy in place.

Make sure to require users to actively agree to use the site in accordance with your terms - for example, by requiring them to tick a box to confirm they accept your terms.

Your terms of use should seek to limit your liability in respect of potential breaches of intellectual property (IP) belonging to third parties, disclosure of confidential information, defamation, privacy breaches, harassment (in the context of employment) and the acts of users, particularly with regard to any content they generate (known as user-generated content).

Permitting users to post user-generated content is a particular risk area. Such content may infringe third-party IP, breach privacy rights, and be defamatory, obscene or offensive. As well as limiting your liability, ensure that your terms give you the right to remove content at your discretion.

If a person objects to information that has been posted, you may receive a ‘notice and take down’ request, where the owner of that information may request its ‘take down’ from your site. If you receive such a request, it’s a good idea to ask a lawyer to support you.

If you think you may wish to use user-generated content for marketing purposes, ensure that your terms of use give you this right and that the content is compliant with the law before you do so.

Your privacy policy will need to accurately reflect what you are doing with users’ personal data. Your terms of use and privacy policy should each cover customised pages that you’re using on third-party social media sites such as Facebook. Your lawyer can assist you with creating effective and compliant policies.

Social media on third-party sites

When using third-party sites, review their terms of use to ensure your business can comply with them. Carefully check the provisions relating to:

  • Rules around advertising, marketing and promotions;
  • Ownership of IP, including data collected or generated through use of the site;
  • Any licences you grant the site owners in relation to your own IP;
  • What rights you have if your IP is misused by other users.

Be aware that most third-party sites have the right to use any intellectual property you upload. Consider including a watermark or other identifier on the content you share, where you wish to assert ownership.

Also bear in mind that you need permission to share content posted by third parties – users are often happy with a simple tag crediting them, but this is not always the case - if in doubt, check. If you are using stock images or music clips, purchase these from reputable sources, to ensure you have a valid licence for use.

Educate your staff

If staff are updating social media on your behalf, ensure they are trained and kept up to date with regard to relevant law and how they can protect your brand and reputation. They need an understanding of:

  • The law around defamation, discrimination and other unfair and deceptive acts (such as making false claims);
  • What rules apply in respect of advertising, promotions and competitions;
  • How to protect your IP and confidential information;
  • How to avoid infringing third-party IP and confidentiality and privacy rights.

An initial training session with a legal expert could be a good place to start, with refreshers scheduled as needed.

You should also consider implementing a social media policy to deal with staff members’ use of social media for both work purposes and their personal use during the working day. Staff must be informed if their personal use of social media may be monitored – this is a potentially contentious area, and you may wish to seek legal advice around the parameters of any monitoring.

Disclose advertising relationships  

Bloggers and influencers are under an obligation to disclose when they have been given an item for free or paid to promote it – you will have no doubt have seen stories and posts on social media with the word ‘AD’ displayed in the corner of the story or at the start of the post. If you pay a blogger or influencer, or provide free products for their review, you must remind them of their obligation to disclose this fact and then check their story/post to ensure they do so. You must also check to ensure they do not make any deceptive or misleading comments or any claims about the product that you cannot substantiate.

Social media tips and tricks: your infographic

As you can tell, there's quite a lot to consider when tackling social media for your business. To simplify the process, we've put it all into one handy infographic. Luck you!

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