Social media marketing may seem like the wild west when it comes to the law, but it's not. As social media becomes an integral part of business, more rules and regulations are put into effect to keep consumers safe.
Social media is literally at the palm of anyone's hand, and this can make it seem like a relaxed environment. But as a business or brand, you are automatically open to more issues than someone posting online for personal reasons. And some of the most common reasons why brands are getting in trouble for can be prevented.
Here are some basic social media legal issues and how to stay out of trouble.
1. Using popular music without permission
Many video editing apps come with the option to add music to your posts. This seems harmless enough, and if it's available in the app it's okay to use for your business right?
These app companies often assume that the content you create is for personal use, and having a popular song in the background of your video can lead to a big fat lawsuit if you don't own the rights to the music.
How to stay out of trouble
Use stock music, buy the rights to music or better yet, how about working with an artist to create original music for your content? This can be a great opportunity for getting more reach and visibility if you partner with an influencer who will showcase their work with you also.
Images, images, images (and videos). There are so many ways visual content in your social media marketing can get you in trouble. Here are 3 of the most common ways.
- Using photos you don't have the rights to. This one gets a little complicated with people thinking you can lift a photo off a Google search, pop a logo or some words on and caption it for a post. Don't do it. You don't own these images - always assume the creator owns all rights.
- Getting people's faces in your photo. This is a hard one to avoid, but people are touchy about their faces and where they may appear. While some folks are more than happy to be in your photo you'll have some others that will be infuriated by the same.
- Not Reposting User Generated Content Properly. This may seem simple, but is another cause for confusion. You may think that because someone has tagged your brand or used a brand hashtag that they are giving you the okay to use the photo - but in reality this may not be enough "permission" and you could find yourself in a little hot water.
How to stay out of trouble
My rule of thumb for visuals is "better to be safe than sorry". Use original content as much as possible - but for those times that you can't create your own content, use free stock image websites like Unsplash.com to source photos.
If you have to resort to Google Images, there is a way to narrow down the photos you may be able to use with no problem. When you conduct your Google image search click on "search tools" under the search bar. You'll see an option for usage rights - under here click on "labeled for reuse" or "labeled for reuse with modification" depending on your needs. The results that pop up will be mostly fair game to include or use for a post. I still take the time to triple check the usage rights because you know - I don't want to get anyone sued.
Not getting faces in photos is a tricky one. Over the years I've gotten good at capturing moments without getting the entirety of people's faces. The best way to avoid issues is to let people people know the photo will be used on social media and ask for permission (you can take this opportunity to ask for handles to tag photo participants - creating more reach - yay). You can also blur faces out when editing photos. Be especially careful when there are children involved.
As for properly reposting user generated photos, well I wrote a whole post about this subject recently. The main takeaway is always give credit, even if the person isn't on the network you're sharing from.
3. Promotions (Sweepstakes/Contests)
As social media has evolved and more brands get social, the dynamic of giveaways has also had to adapt to the changing times. But the law can be a little sketchy when it comes to digital initiatives.
Some people use "sweepstakes" and "contest" interchangeably - but making the distinction between the two can help you stay out of any legal issues.
Sweepstakes are commonly used to spread awareness and require little to no barrier to entry with winners chosen at random. A contest is great for engagement and requires the participant to do more (display a skill, post a photo, like a post etc.) - and is subject to contest rules within your state. Furthermore individual social media networks have different rules when it comes to these promotions (which also tend to change with time).
How to stay out of trouble
In order to run a contest smoothly there are a few precautions you can take:
- Review the content guidelines for your state, city and country.
- Learn the contest rules for each network
- Make sure the full official rules are available for review including instructions on how to enter, material guidelines, duration, and how the prize will be announce/administered.
- Check that your promo doesn't need to be registered (some states require this).
- I also make it a habit to periodically check on new FTC guidelines as they are constantly changing.
One last area where you may get into trouble is related to influencers and influencer marketing.
Endorsements by influencers are a great way to reach a new fan base - but be cautious as the FTC requires bloggers/content creators to disclose when a post is endorsed. Look out for changes coming soon in which hashtags like #sp, #ad, and #sponsored will not be enough disclosure to consumers - in addition sponsored videos will have to disclose this info within video text or spoken out loud.
At the end of the day, and as a social media marketer who takes this seriously, I feel it's my job to keep my clients safe from any legal issues pertaining to social media marketing activities. This sometimes means irritating a client, but how much more irritating would a lawsuit be?
As I mentioned before the rules and laws applied to social media are in a constant state of update and change as the networks themselves evolve, so staying in the know and reading guidelines is key to staying out of trouble.