There is a lot of grey area when it comes to brand social media activity and business liability, especially where employees are involved. Not only are there concerns about what puts your company at risk for legal action, there are all sorts of human resource concerns that can come when there is no solid plan in place. The recent firing (and rehiring) of a Disney resort employee who tweeted an image of a staffroom sign in light of the June 2016 gator attack is a perfect example.
It’s better to avoid that grey area altogether. Instead, ensure that your entire hierarchy understands how to hedge your business’ risk from the social media activity of staff. This comes down to creating a strict and clear policy regarding social media management for your brand. Let’s take a look at how to accomplish this.
How to Protect Your Brand and Business from Liability on Social Media
1. Set a Clear Mandate that Includes Accountability
Your social media policy must be clear and note all human resource accountabilities.
When it comes to content, the policy must dictate that staff is not allowed to respond to customer complaints or address corporate controversies on social media without being vetted by top management. As a supplement to management vetting, communication templates must be created so that staff can reply to brand-specific comments and queries that are consistently found on social media. The policy must demand that staff avoid commentary on any current affair that is deemed to be anything but positive. It must avoid conversation around religion or politics unless your company is invested in them, and even then, tread lightly. The policy must state that staff may not express personal opinions when posting from the brand profile. When your mandate allows for employee social media advocacy (which can be a successful social media growth strategy) you must also ensure that when an employee references your brand (their employer) that they do so within a set of guidelines.
Accountabilities must also be made clear. Staff needs to understand the repercussions of violating anything detailed in the policy, including but not exclusive to everything addressed below. Keep reading.
2. Protect the Privacy of Your Followers
Make sure that everyone on your social media payroll (and/or internship program) understands that they must not share the information, including posts, about your following, when not permitted. This is also a grey area. For example, a customer may post a picture (on their profile) that shows them using your product/service. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to use it as a visual testimonial from a satisfied customer, right? However, if that person does not directly tag your business or @msg your brand profile in the process, they likely had no intent of having you share their post on your brand profile. When they do tag or @msg your business, they are indicating that they want you to take notice and they would likely be happy to have you share their post (as it increases exposure for their own profile). But even then, it makes sense to ask them if you can share the post first. If they don’t tag or @msg you, then don’t share.
3. No False Promises
Your staff can get you in hot water when they make any claims on social media about your product that may exaggerate its use or effectiveness. Your social media manager, staff, or interns may feel like they’re doing the right thing by singing the praises of your product/service but they must stick to what’s proven, or speak in general terms. This can be tricky, especially when your social media audience appreciates wit and cheeky communications. However, when you state on Twitter that using your product or service will increase libido, make someone a millionaire, or remove wrinkles (you get the idea), there will be someone out there that is ready to call you out on it, and possibly in the court of law.
The concept of “false promises” also applies to brand contests held on social media. There are federal and provincial laws specific to contests and sweepstakes in your region. There are also rules and regulations about how to manage contests on the social networks themselves. Know them all, and communicate these laws and regulations to your social media staff in both documented and verbal form.
4. Keep a Closed Lid on Competition
It can be very tempting to talk about your competition on social media, especially when they’ve done something to offend the populous themselves. But anytime you mention a specific competitor on your social networks, you open yourself up to a defamation lawsuit. It’s OK to have social media staff refer to competition in loose terms, as in “Our competitors don’t care about your needs like we do”, but they must never name names. This even applies to “Pepsi vs Coke” styled product comparison campaigns. Those brands have the financial backing to head to court. You may not. Even if your direct competitor has (allegedly) committed a heinous act, let them deal with the clean-up. Take the moral high-ground and keep focusing on your customer, on social media, instead.
5. Communicate Copyright Infringement Risk
Your business needs to be aware of more than just statements and opinions made by employees on social media. Anyone in charge of posting content on behalf of your brand needs to be aware of copyright law as it applies to the use of photos and images. They may borrow a picture or graphic and apply it to one of your social media campaigns or daily posts. As soon as they do, it becomes tied to your brand. Those that own the picture or graphic may not be OK with this. In most cases, the content owner will ask you to remove it. But there is the off chance that they will take immediate legal action. Make sure that any employee that is in charge of posting on social media properly vets curated content for copyright concerns. The ultimate solution, however, is to create your own unique content for use on social media.
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