Using social media exposes your business to direct contact with public opinion and comment. It is important to consider how to operate within the social media environment, whether on external sites or social tools on your own website. Understanding the legal pitfalls and maintaining a professional approach can help to protect your reputation and business.
Protect your brand
It's important to consider monitoring social comments. If you host a forum or encourage blog comments, you may find that some users post inappropriate comments. This could include:
- Inappropriate language - if your customers are likely to be sensitive to certain language, make sure you have a system for monitoring all new posts before they go live.
- Libellous material - you may be held responsible for any user comments on your site that insult or libel someone. Make sure you monitor what users are saying.
- Damaging comments - while customer opinion can be useful, you don't want to have too many negative comments about your business. If you find this is the case, look into the reasons behind the comments and try to put things right.
While you should try to protect your brand and your site from potential threats, this should be balanced with maintaining brand honesty. Site users should feel that there's an open and honest, two-way exchange of ideas and opinions. This will build trust between you and your customers and encourage loyalty.
If you do receive negative comments, respond in a professional and positive way and address the issues raised. It is also important to monitor the social buzz or chatter around your brand to see how your business is being talked about on other websites, so that you can respond accordingly.
There are a range of paid for and free services that will help you monitor what people are saying about your brand online. For example, you can set up Google alerts to notify you by email of mentions of your brand across the web and different types of social media. These tools can also be used to keep up-to-date with what is being said about your competitors - helping you understand your market better. Think also about how you can secure your brand identity across different social platforms - avoiding misrepresentation by third parties.
You should position your marketing strategy on the social web very carefully. Any campaigns should be designed with the social web in mind. Avoid simply placing the same messages you use in other marketing channels into a social web context. Instead, tailor your campaign so that it will sit comfortably with both the site and its users.
Social tools on your website
Many social media tools allow easy integration with your own website. Before you launch any new features on your website, make sure you have thought about the legal aspects. For example, social media tools often ask for users' personal details. Managing these details can be straightforward, but you must make it clear to your users what you are and are not responsible for.
Make sure you have the following on your website:
- a disclaimer - setting out the limits of your legal liability
- terms and conditions - letting users know what they can expect from the site
It would be wise to consider using text and image filtering or a comment approval process. This will reduce the risk of inappropriate or offensive material being put onto your site.
Complying with online advertising standards
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code's remit has been extended to include any online advertisement or statement that's intended to sell products or services. This includes non-paid-for space under your control on social media sites, as well as marketing material on your own website.