Social Network Marketing – Legal Pitfalls


The use of social media websites for marketing is growing fast. However, this is new ground for many marketers and, as it matures, certain legal issues will emerge. In this article, I look at a few potential legal pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Because social network marketing involves the publishing or broadcast of online content, many existing, traditional media law apply to content on social media websites.

Copyright is the big one, with “fair use” on the forefront. Copyright law protects any type of content whether it is text, audio, video — whether or not an actual copyright statement exists on the content. To keep yourself safe, always quote sources. Even if you don’t use a statement word-for-worth, it’s better to attribute statements to known sources.

Services such as CopyScape offer website owners and web content providers the ability to check their writing against other content on the web. But, it won’t check older, or archived, content that doesn’t exist on the web. Just because content has been checked with CopyScape doesn’t mean it wasn’t plagiarized.

These same standards apply to trademarks, logos, literature and art. Your motto should be “When in doubt, source it out.” Be aware also of “deep linking” to content, whether pictures, logos, or other material.

If you link to content which looks like it might be misconstrued as belonging to you, you could be in violation of copyright laws. Not to mention stealing bandwidth.

Another potentially problematic area is disclosure and confidentiality. You need to be careful about what you write about your own business and competitors. Revealing information about the business transactions of your clients or competitors could land you in very hot water. When you perform a transaction with a client, it’s assumed that you will hold client information confidential. Leaking confidential information can be very damaging to a client or competitor—not to mention your own reputation.

Any media law expert will tell you that one of the biggest dangers when publishing or broadcasting are defamation and libel. If you are writing anything about an individual, especially if it is controversial, you must check that all facts are correct before publication. In fact, even if you are repeating something libelous that you saw written elsewhere you can have legal problems. The best advice? Don’t do it. Stay away from anything that hints of trouble.

If you use social media websites like FaceBook and MySpace, be aware of privacy issues. While it is perfectly ethical to use social networking websites to spread your message to people who are genuinely interested, many people game the system. Like email spam, social networking spam is becoming a huge problem. Don’t be surprised about future legislation on this issue.

Social network marketing is still in its infancy so many legal issues have yet to be flushed out. The bottom line is that if you’re communicating on social media sites, and you’re not attempting to circumvent ideas or privacy, you shouldn’t run into any legal trouble.

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