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How to be Social Media Smart for Your Business

Scott Malouf, Esq.

Social media can be an effective and inexpensive way to reach your target audience, sell products, and directly communicate with people online. But with great opportunity comes increased risk, especially on social media.

Much like other everyday business issues (taxes, permits, intellectual property, etc.), social media has legal restrictions that require navigating. We talked with social media attorney Scott Malouf, Esq., about social media legalities and best practices so your online presence can start off on the right foot.

Content Curation

When it comes to content curation on your social media channels, the first step is to set expectations of who you are and what kind of content you’ll be posting within the bounds of your industry. It’s the first step in marketing your small business. Are you a pediatrics office that handles sensitive information? Posting photos of your patients could violate HIPPA. If you’re an ice cream shop, however, sharing customers enjoying your product, with permission, is a sweet idea.

Q: How does copyright law apply to social media?

A: People share pictures, memes, GIFs, and whatever will come next—at the speed of light. In the midst of all the content sharing, it’s difficult to know who owns what. And while it seems the purpose of social media content is to be shared, improper credit is no different than any other form of copyright violation.

Q: Is tagging the source of content enough?

A: Whether you’re posting a picture an employee took or reposting a customer’s photo, asking permission for use is mandatory. Be transparent about your intentions for photo use. There’s a difference between gaining permission for Instagram and incorporating it into a campaign, which calls for a written agreement and proper compensation.

The best advice is to create the content yourself. It sparks creativity and builds intrigue with your customer base. It will help you learn the ins and outs of social media and its benefits. Plus, you’ll be the genius behind your own brand!

Q: Do I have to ask permission to use a photo of someone?

A: You can go anywhere and take photos of people, but using those photos, say, for your small business is a different story. Take precautions by asking permission first to avoid these obstructions:

  • Violation of Privacy
    There’s a violation of privacy where the subject is in a place that’s expected to be private, like a doctor’s office or at home.
  • Defamation
    If the used image harms or creates a false impression of the subject.
  • Right of Publicity
    Using a photo of someone for commercial purposes as an endorsement to promote a product or service is a violation.

Q: How do I keep track of all the rules surrounding social media?

A: Writing out a social media policy specific to your company sets the standards of social media use and brand consistency, and reduces potential liability. Plus, you have enough on your plate when running a business, so delegating social media responsibilities to employees could take some weight off your shoulders.

Your policy should set the following guidelines:

  • How members of the company will use social media
  • Social media misuse and how to avoid it
  • How the company will respond to and interact with customers
  • How the business will collect and maintain proper permissions

Online Promotions & Sweepstakes

Promotional giveaways and contests are a great way for customers to be involved with your company. But these bright ideas can have dark consequences when not executed properly, so consulting an attorney for guidance is advised.

Q: If a small business owner wants to run a promotion to attract more customers, how do they do it?

A: There are many details to account for if you’re going to take a chance on running your own sweepstakes, giveaway or contest. They’re also strictly regulated by state and federal laws. You’re going to need a lot more than luck to avoid the legalities, so protect your business by consulting with an attorney to sit down and design your promotion.

Q: Are there any local resources to reference?

A: While you should always seek legal counsel for running a sweepstakes, taking a deep dive into industry publications or local groups to learn what other businesses are doing is never a bad idea—and could inspire some of your own.

  • SCORE Mentors Greater Rochester is a nonprofit association that helps small business owners grow and succeed by offering a library of professional advice articles, workshops, and mentorships.
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides free business counseling for small business owners who seek advice from industry experts.

At the end of the day, it’s always a good idea to protect yourself and take extra steps to save time, money, even your business.

Testimonials and Endorsements

Testimonials and reviews are excellent stamps of approval and perhaps one of the greatest reasons a customer chooses to use your business. According to a reputation management survey from Status Labs, 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. And 73% of customers trust a local business with positive reviews even more.

That information isn’t surprising, but with so much pressure to maintain a 5-star reputation, businesses can potentially lose their customer loyalty if reviews aren’t genuine.

Q: What’s the best way to get a testimonial or review?

A: As organically as possible. Do you know someone who’s had a good experience with your business? Use it. Politely request a review or testimonial. Or direct them to share on Yelp or Google Reviews, but make sure to check the rules of the platform before directing customers.

Q: Can small business owners make changes to any statements or reviews?

A: These are murky waters. Let’s say you’ve received a testimonial from a customer and they describe an overall positive experience, with the exception of minor inconveniences (wait time or other small errors). The positive portion of the testimonial would be perfect to use, but the negatives, while harmless, could reflect badly on your business. What if you just included the positive part?

Not including the full testimonial is quite deceptive. You run the risk of losing trust from that customer and ones in the future, so avoid tampering with testimonials. What you can do is edit for clarity and attach an “edited for clarity” statement if there were grammatical errors that needed correcting.

Q: What if I receive negative reviews?

A: Everyone gets a negative review. Take time to think before responding to it. Is it a long-time customer, new customer or not even one at all? Websites have protocols for people who leave false reviews with the intention of damaging a business’ reputation.

If it’s a legitimate complaint, contact the customer promptly and privately to resolve it as best as you can. This way, you could potentially remove the testimonial and demonstrate your customer service capabilities.

Better Safe Than Sorry

When it comes to navigating the legalities of social media, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Do some research to confirm that what you’re posting is within the legal limits. It’ll save time, money and potentially your business. Most important, be authentic and original. That should be the ultimate goal anyway.

*Legal disclaimer: The information contained here is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information in this article without seeking legal or other professional advice.