The Legalities of Social Media Marketing for Businesses

By Amanda DiSilvestro Social media marketing is known as the “fun” marketing, but that doesn’t mean the law doesn’t apply. Oftentimes legal issues with online marketing go unnoticed because it is such a booming industry. People are writing about how to decipher Google analytics and creating a website for the Google algorithm, and there simply isn’t quite as much talk about the negatives that could occur. The truth is that the law is everywhere, and although it may seem a bit blurred when it comes to this new field, it’s not invisible. This then leads to that inevitable question: How can I make sure I’m staying in the lines (and haven’t crossed them already)?

How to Minimize the Legal Risks of Social Media Marketing

Understanding some of the legal risks, however, can really work in a company’s favor. Minimizing these risks is easy with just a few simple precautions including:

  • Creative Commons. This is one aspect where I am always tempted to try and cut corners (particularly with pictures). Creative commons (http://creativecommons.org) is a license that someone can put on an article or a photo that allows you to use it provided you follow certain criteria. The criteria changes from item to item so you have to read up, but just make sure you find something that allows commercial use. If you just grab a photo off of the Internet somewhere, you might be in legal trouble because you don’t have permission through a creative commons license.
  • Website Name. There are tons of legal issues that can come from using a name or a tagline as your own. If someone has trademarked a certain company name or phrase you could be in legal trouble. In most cases you will simply have to change your name and that is the end of it, but it’s best to avoid it in the first place just in case you get someone unfriendly. You can learn more about how to check if something is trademarked here (http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4005:1dcmg0.1.1).
  • Truthfulness of Content. If you write something untrue on a social media account you could be in big trouble. Make sure you are always telling the truth and never assuming something about a competitor or embellishing to make your own product seem better than it really is. If you are caught lying, you could be in big trouble with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Always Link. If you’re going to quote someone, link back to the original source. Sometimes just saying who said the quote isn’t enough. The law wants to see that you’re not making something up, and this is done through linking.
  • Games. This was something that caught me by surprise as I did my last minute research to write this article. Believe it or not, there are quite a few legal rules you have to follow when it comes to hosting different games on social media. If you’re going to have a lottery, it’s illegal to have participants pay to play. If you change the rules of your game once it has started, you could be in trouble with your state’s attorney general. The moral of the story: Always make sure that everything is extremely clear when you host different contests.

What to Expect If You’re Not Careful

Although social media marketing is still in its early stages, there always seems to come a time when people start to realize that there is an opportunity to sue. Getting sued over a company name or an idea can get messy (and expensive), and this often catches people off-guard because social media marketing appears incredibly lax. Lawyers are just now beginning to come up with strategies for social media and the law, so it’s still tough to find a good case. Hopefully this won’t happen and people will be able to discuss the issues first, but it’s always good to be prepared and stop it before it gets worse.

Do you have any stories about social media legalities? Anything extra you’re doing to protect your company? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit: resonates.com

Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from algorithm updates. She writes for HigherVisibility, a nationally recognized SEO firm that offers national and local SEO service to a wide range of companies across the country.