Legal Eagles & Social Media
Legal Eagles & Social Media
With all the excitement surrounding the Facebook IPO, the continuing saga surrounding social media legal concerns has fallen out of favor but that doesn’t make it less relevant. In fact, it only heightens the many ways in which social media consulting firms must remain ever-vigilant in order to avoid legal backlash and stay on firm footing. In recent months we covered the basics of SOPA and then PIPA but that is only a fraction of pending or approved legislation which governs social media marketing. Today we are going to share several of the most important laws…and gaps… every small business owner and social media consultant need to know in order to stay out of trouble both today and in the future.
The Do-Not-Call Act – Most small business owners are aware of the “National Do Not Call Registry” that prohibits any organization from contacting registered users outside of an established business relationship but what…if any…impact does this have on social media? Well, the terms are clear…violations of this act can cost up to $11,000 per person but what many small business owners don’t realize is that it is possible to demonstrate an ongoing business relationship via social media marketing.
Defamation – What are the legal considerations if you, an employee or even a client posts negative information online? Well it really depends. In most instances, websites are protected against user generated comments so it’s not absolutely essential to weed out all those negative postings from a legal perspective…you probably want to for other reasons but it’s not a critical concern if someone posts negative publicity about a competitor. On the other hand, when it comes to your staff the issue is a bit more complex. It’s important to perform some due diligence and check the facts especially if posting negative information that could be considered detrimental. While you may be entitled to your own “freedom of speech” that does not protect hate crimes or false accusations.
Disclosure of Relationships – The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has oversight over deceptive advertising and even how testimonials are used. One area of particular interest to social media marketing consultants and small business owners is the use of reviews. For example, let’s assume a small business owner sends out a sample to a client in exchange for a review or testimonial. The review could be good or bad but either way, it is a legal requirement to disclose the relationship status. If an advertising agency sponsors research, it must also disclose the relationship. Essentially, any type of pre-existing relationship must be disclosed including vendors, reviewers, business partners or others.
CAN SPAM – The “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (whew!) establishes official requirements for sending email. Violators are subject to a penalty of up to $16,000 per incident so this is a good one to know. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to comply with if you follow some common sense tips including:
1. Clearly identify who is sending the email and don’t try to hide, misinform or deceive readers. Simple but you might be surprised at some of the “black hat” tactics desperados resort to when trying to attract attention.
2. Include an opt-out. Once again, it might seem like common sense that allowing readers the option of opting out is not only a time saver but preferable to dealing with hate mail but apparently not. Include an easy to use link that allows readers to opt out at will then be sure to honor it within 10 days (maximum). If there is a delay, be sure to state it. Once opted out, update all records including lists that are sold or transferred.
3. Use a reputable vendor or email service provider. Small business owners are ultimately responsible so make sure you understand where all contacts are derived from, what is included in each email and how they are delivered. If in doubt, err on the side of caution! Reputable vendors understand the importance of building solid relationships rather than resorting to fast “black hat” techniques.