Social media is undoubtedly one of the most powerful marketing tools of our time. It can be used for many things, including communicating with customers, breaking the news, and selling our products to a target audience.
Every company in the civilized world uses social media to some extent, but there are some clear examples of when social media has been misused. Not only can these social media mistakes cost you your business, but they can also land you in court.
Interestingly, these mistakes are not restricted to your comments on Twitter or Facebook alone – they also affect everything you say in your email newsletters, blog, and every other form of digital content.
Although most bloggers and business owners understand their industry inside and out, they don’t seem to understand much when it comes to how the law affects their online marketing efforts.
Fortunately, you need not be a legal expert to know what social media marketing mistakes can jeopardize your business.
Why You Should Avoid Social Media Mistakes At All Costs
One of the most common misconceptions in the business world is that solopreneurs or small businesses owners don’t get sued, but that’s not true.
In fact, the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform stated that in 2008, “small businesses bore 81% of business tort liability costs.”
Additionally, a report on the Richard Palumbo blog shows that, “over 50 percent of all civil lawsuits target small businesses annually.”
According to Insurance Journal, when small businesses and entrepreneurs are sued over reputational damage – including violation of privacy, slander, and libel – it usually attracts a $50,000 fine.
So if you thought that because you operate a small online business you can’t attract a court case, you better rethink that assessment.
You should also note that a lawsuit is not just about the legal bills and time spent in the courtroom; being sued can be a terrible experience for anyone, and it can ultimately damage your brand’s reputation.
That being said, let’s quickly look at some of the most common social media marketing mistakes that can attract legal headaches, and let’s also find out some ways to avoid them.
3 Social Media Marketing Mistakes That Could Get You A Lawsuit
Mistake #1. Copyright Infringement
This is one of the most common offenses on the internet. Copyright infringement is the act of using someone’s work (usually copyrighted) without his/her permission.
So how do you identify when work has been copyrighted?
Well, aside from someone applying for a copyright, if there’s an idea that has been put into a tangible medium, such as a work of art, writing, photography, music, film, etc., the resulting material becomes automatically copyrighted and protected.
The creator of this material is not required to do anything else to get that sweet copyright protection other than to develop the piece.
They don’t have to publish it, register it anywhere (although they can), or put a © badge on it. They also don’t have to exercise much effort into defending the work.
So if you grab an image or a quote online for a tweet or use your favorite song to enhance your YouTube tutorial, you might have to pay a fine.
Here are some examples of businesses that faced legal charges for what may have been non-deliberate infringements:
- In 2015, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) made a report of how an online travel agency owned by Serpil Sevin was ordered to pay $24,000 to Vincent Khoury Tylor, a landscape photographer based in Hawaii. Sevin had used the photographers’ work without permission, credit, or compensation.
- According to a report from The Verge in 2014, a YouTube star (Michelle Phan) was sued by Ultra Records for copyright infringement over the music in some of her clips. After repeated warnings that she did not have permission to use this music, she continued, and is now facing statutory damages of $150,000 per each act of infringement.
When a piece of material is copyrighted, it means that only the creator has the right to:
- Edit or modify it in any form.
- Distribute it to the public.
- Repurpose the work to another form.
Finally, the best way to stay away from copyright infringement is by using materials that you have the right to share, or the ones that belong to the public domain.
Also, whenever you use someone else’s work, don’t forget to give him/her credit as the original owner.
Mistake #2. Slander and Libel
Most of us have at some point made defamatory assertions at a time when we’re angry and offended.
A comment is defamatory if it is stated falsely as a fact, spoken to a third party, or if it is destructive to the subject’s reputation.
Slander and libel are two types of defamation. If you write an untrue or damaging statement about someone or group of people, you’re guilty of libel. And when you verbalize those words, you’ve committed slander.
Unfortunately, the internet makes it very easy for people to commit these offenses. Using this report from telegraph.co.uk as an example, “a typist who launched a Twitter rant about an unpaid £150 bill is facing a libel battle that could cost her £100,000.”
According to the report, the typist complained on Twitter because the company was late to pay her, and this ended up getting her a lawsuit.
The fact is that you can accidentally slander someone on social media without even knowing it.
Luckily, you can take some steps to avoid getting into this kind of trouble.
Some of the things you can do:
- Never make any statement in anger.
- Be very careful with your chosen hashtags.
- Properly access your facts before sharing.
- Be clear with your context.
Bottom line: No matter how angry or tensed you are, keeping silent will do you a lot of good. This is because one careless statement could cost you your business.
Mistake #3. Invasion of Privacy
I know you might be wondering how likely it is that you can invade someone’s privacy through your social media marketing efforts.
However, there are many instances where you can commit this offense:
- Publicizing of private facts: There’s obviously some information people don’t wish to disclose to the public and would rather keep to themselves. If you expose these facts, you might get sued for invasion of privacy. An example of this is a case of an ESPN reporter, Adam Schefter, who was sued for tweeting the medical records of New York Giant, Jason Pierre-Paul, as reported on the New York Daily News website.
- False light publicity: It is illegal to publicize deceptive information about someone; especially if it’s very embarrassing and damaging. (Note: This is akin to slander/libel.)
- Misappropriation: It is also unlawful to use people’s names or images to promote your business without their consent – this is called misappropriation. (Note: This is akin to copyright infringement.) For example, some celebrities have sued a lot of companies in the past for using their images, like when Tim Duncan, a retired NBA star, sued a San Antonio real estate agent.
Avoid These Online Mistakes & Avoid Getting A Lawsuit
All this said, there are legal defenses for everything.:
- Copyright Infringement – “Fair use”
- Libel/Slander – “Free speech”
- Invasion of Privacy – “Freedom of information”
But in order to argue these points, you will still likely need to go through a treacherous legal battle that could cost you a lot of time, money, and potentially damage your brand.
I believe the best way to avoid problems is to not do unto others what you wouldn’t have them do unto you. I know you probably wouldn’t be happy if the world got to know about your medical information, relationship/family problems, financial woes, and sexual history.
So just be kind, and there shouldn’t be any problems.
Finally, be careful of what you do on social media. Even though it’s a handy tool for entrepreneurs and business owners, it can also ruin your business, and even your career, if misused.
So next time you go to make an angry post about someone or something on Twitter, make sure you know the risks involved.
You don’t want to be facing a lawsuit.
Have you ever faced a lawsuit for one of the above legal issues? What was the outcome? Share your experience with me in the comments section below!
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For further reading:
- 5 Tips to Become a Social Media Cool Kid
- What is Social Media Optimization?
- How Much Has Social Media Changed Society?