A Digital Dilemma: Social Media & The Law

There’s been a major digital dilemma on my mind these days.

No, it isn’t the latest Google acquisition, a Facebook privacy issue, or the soul-searching question of, “to tweet or not to tweet?”

My digital dilemma is social media and the law.

Recently, I attended a small conference solely for the purpose of networking and snooping on how speakers were presenting social media to small businesses just getting their feet wet in the digital ocean. I stumbled into a workshop on social media and the law that featured a panel of NYC-based lawyers who specialized in the subject. I quickly went from observer to student as my notebook pages filled up with legal jargon that affected my own company.

As a writer and marketing professional, law is certainly not my specialty or even my area of interest. But I began to do my own research on social media and the law and feel that this is a serious issue that many businesses are ignoring and therefore leaving themselves vulnerable to attack.

So my official disclaimer is that I am not a legal professional and I suggest every business approach their own legal team with this issue, using this blog as a starting point for your education on social media and the law.

Social Media and the Law

Start with your employee handbook. Your business has worked hard to set up engaging social media accounts, but have you examined your online communications policy? My bet is your business hasn’t even created anything close to an online communications policy.

There’s something called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that helps businesses do just that. First tip? Just like any other policy, the verbiage should be anything but broad.

Keep your advertising campaigns in check. Everyone has heard of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) but they do more than crack down on celebs like Howard Stern and investigate Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunctions. The FTC applies their standards to traditional media the same way they do to digital media. For example, the FTC now mandates that bloggers must disclose any endorsements.

Protect your digital space. Every social network and website you come across in the digital world provides some sort of private policy or terms of use. Don’t overlook your own assets when it comes to legal protection. If your business has a blog where fans are communicating, you should absolutely have a Terms of Use page that is accessible to your users.

Educate your employees. The digital world moves too fast for your business to set a few policies into place, have your employees sign off on them, and cross your fingers as you hope for the best. Employers can have a say in how their employees conduct their social media profiles, especially if they use your business name (even if it is listed in their “employment” section of a Facebook profile).

Find out your rights as an employer and create a Social Media Guide for employees on how to create professional profiles. If you, as the employer, don’t take the time to outline your social media expectations then you have very little ground to stand on when things go wrong.

Protect Your Business

This blog is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media and the law. If you have web programmers or writers producing valuable tools and content for your business, you’ll have to take it a step further and outline what is and isn’t owned by the company.

Consulting a lawyer is the best route to take in order to protect your business, but if you want to continue your education along the way there are plenty of blogs out there that cover this topic such as www.socialnetworkinglawblog.com. Also, look up a local law school and see if the students will hold free workshops for small businesses on the topic as part of their education.

I hope reading this gets you on the phone with your lawyer – and fast. Protect your online assets, protect yourself and protect your employees. Your business has worked hard to make its mark in the digital arena, so make sure you’re always ready to throw the last punch.

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