Social media is a crucial component of any small business' marketing efforts. When done well, a strong social strategy helps you connect directly with your customers, and can even create some free publicity along the way.
For all of social media's advantages, there are pitfalls as well. The internet can look like a cavalier place when it comes to copyright rules, but there are plenty of no-nos that you need to follow if you want to stay out of legal trouble.
These are the six most common ones I've seen:
1. Using photos without permission
Here at Fundera, we work with a lot of small business owners who only recently started using sites such as Instagram--and figuring out what to post can be the hardest. Permissions work differently for businesses on the internet than individuals, however. Any time you use a photo on social media, you must make sure that you have permission from the owner of the image.
Most people will be happy for you to use their photos, so long as you ask politely. Some may ask you for a license fee in exchange, which you can work out on a case-by-case basis. The same holds true for individuals as well--even if you took the photo yourself, you have to make sure that the person photographed is okay with you using their likeness.
2. Not getting regram approval
It's always exciting to see someone say positive things about your brand online. This is the internet's version of word-of-mouth advertising--happy customers are praising your business to their followers. Just because someone mentioned your brand or took a great photo of your product doesn't mean you're allowed to repost their content, though, since it's their intellectual property.
Before you "regram" that awesome pic of your cafe on Instagram, I suggest you reply to a post by thanking the original poster for the praise, and to ask if they're okay with the company regramming their original post. Once you've gotten the go-ahead, be sure to clearly label that the photo and accompanying text came from the original user, and tag them in your post.
3. Infringing on logos or other copyrighted materials
If you've found the perfect inspiration for your logo, and it's already in use by another company, you're going to have to keep looking.
It doesn't matter if the name or logo is for a company in a different country--their intellectual property claim still holds up (so long as they're copyrighted and patented these items). If you truly want to take inspiration from another company's logo, work with a graphic designer who can help you pinpoint which parts of the design you like.
4. Not identifying paid influencer posts
Influencer advertising can be a great way for companies to spread their message. Influencers promote products and brands in exchange for free goods or a sum of money. They can help drive their social following to your brand's social channels, or to your website.
Make sure that your influencers always mark that their post is sponsored by your company, or that they received free products in exchange. Companies are just as liable to punitive actions as the individuals doing the posting.
5. Slandering your competitors
It's tempting for brands to look at industry-leading companies' social media handles and try to emulate their tactics. Some brands like to live on the edge by replying to comments with sarcastic remarks, or jabs at their competitors, but they also have a team of lawyers to protect them.
The best rule of thumb for social media is to never post something you wouldn't feel comfortable saying out loud. If you would never consider walking into your competitors' shop and saying something to the owner, I say don't post it on the internet.
6. Not posting contest terms and conditions
We've worked with many small businesses who have had massive success with social media giveaways as a way to gin up interest and excitement. Many of our clients use giveaways to gain new followers, solicit fans to take photos, and spread the word about their brands.
But giveaways and contest on social media still have to follow the same rules and regulations as their offline counterparts. There are plenty of companies out there that focus on running social contests, such as DojoMojo and ViralSweep. These groups take the guesswork out of giveaways and help you stay legal.
Social media is a great resource for small businesses. You can compete against monolithic brands, and speak directly to the consumers who power your success. But it's too easy to make an avoidable mistake that could do you more harm than good.
By staying on top of these best practices, and reaching out to lawyers when something seems unclear, you'll craft a social presence that can help power your brand.