In an average month, more than 1.5 billion people worldwide use Facebook, 400 million use Instagram, 320 million use Twitter, and 100 million use Pinterest. With huge audiences like these, it is no surprise that businesses have increased their presence on social media sites over the last several years. These sites help companies identify and target customers and have conversations with them. Businesses reap great rewards from engaging the public this way.
If they are not careful, they can also run into trouble. Like any other business tool, social media present risks. Before businesses can control these risks, they have to know what they are.
Anyone can post content on a social media site in seconds. That makes it very easy to post content to which another business holds the rights, and that can lead to a lawsuit. That is what happened when Fox News Channel posted on their Facebook page for one of its programs the famous photo of firemen raising the American flag at the scene of the destroyed World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The publisher of some New Jersey newspapers owned the rights to the photo and sued for copyright infringement. The court rejected Fox News’s argument that it was entitled to use the photo under the “fair use” provision of the federal copyright law.
Discussions on social media can get heated. When someone posts statements while angry, those statements may cross the line from opinion to defamation.
A Florida company was unhappy with a refurbished machine it bought from an Illinois company. After multiple service attempts resulted in acrimony, the customer left harsh comments on the seller’s Facebook page. Among other things, the post claimed that the seller gave misleading information about the machine’s age; that the representative sent to service the machine was unqualified; that the seller had rebuilt the machine improperly; and that the seller refused to fix the machine. The seller sued its now-former customer for defamation, and a federal court agreed, noting that “the bulk of the statements are objectively verifiable factual statements…”
Sometimes, employees may violate rights of privacy, including that of the business and other employees. An excited employee may publish photos of a colleague’s new baby on the company Facebook page without the parent’s permission. A member of a product development team may brag about the product on Twitter before the company wants the world to know about it. An employee worried about layoff rumors may make posts about how badly the business is doing. Any of these could damage the company, either by subjecting it to an employee lawsuit or by harming its reputation.
To reduce the risks, businesses should develop and enforce social media policies for employees to follow. One person within the organization should have overall responsibility for social media efforts. Lastly, they should consider buying cyber liability insurance for those incidents that may still occur.
Social media is a significant and permanent part of modern marketing strategies. If businesses control the risks, they can use it to help them thrive.