The rise of social media is irresistible. No matter what your approach to it may be, you must be aware of the legal risks and take a few simple steps to protect your business.

How can it benefit your business?

  • Brand promotion and marketing: it can give you an opportunity to put your brand and corporate message to the people you want to reach
  • Customer profiling: by encouraging user generated content (UGC), your social media sites can help you target the right audience for your products and services.
  • Networking: it allows you to build connections with other businesses and professionals in the same or related fields.
  • Recruitment: the best and brightest expect your business to 'get' social media.

What are the risks?

Although the benefits of social media are undeniable, you must be aware of the risks.

  • Employers can be liable for discriminatory and defamatory statements of their employees. By law, employers must make their workplaces safe and free from harassment. Social networking sites give employees the chance to publish insulting or defamatory comments about their employer or colleagues.
  • If you invite users to post comments on your social media sites then you need to monitor carefully what is being said. Their comments might be seen by your clients, customers and employees: they might not make attractive reading and, even though you didn't write them, they could give you a nasty legal headache.
  • The casual nature of social networking can lead employees to inadvertently disclose information (yours or a client's) that they would not discuss in more formal communications.
  • If employees or others are uploading content onto your social media sites which is copyright of trademark protected, you could find yourself breaching someone's intellectual property rights.
  • If a key employee walks out, could you stop him taking hundreds of LinkedIn business contacts with him?
  • Some employers make hiring and firing decisions in part based on what candidates and employees say on their Facebook pages. Be careful, this could land you in legal hot water.

Protecting your business

To ensure your business minimises its risks make sure to:

  • Adopt a clear social media policy for your employees - covering not just their own personal use but also the use of social media as part of your firm's marketing strategy
  • Have written terms of use and privacy policies posted on any social media site your business operates
  • If you use Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media sits to promote your business, make sure you abide by their terms of use
  • Monitor all third party content on your social media sites
  • Make sure your business complies with data protection rules if the social media sites will be used to compile data on users.

This first appaeared in our International Newsletter in March 2013.