What Small Businesses Need to Know About Social Media

By October 9, 2015 No Comments

Sherry Photo Biz Fair 2015 smallRecently, I had the opportunity to give a presentation about social media and the law to a group of entrepreneurs at the 2015 Washington Small Business Fair, or “BizFair”. What do small businesses need to know about social media and the law?

First, a social media presence is almost inevitable for any business. Online review sites and the widespread ability of anyone to comment on social media mean that your business will have a social media presence. Even if you choose not to directly Tweet, Facebook, share information about your business on LinkedIn, Yelp or Pin about it, chances are, if people are talking about your business at all, they are also talking about it on social media. Therefore, the question should not be whether your business will be on social media, but rather what you can control about your business’s social media presence, and how you can use it to your advantage to present the message you want.

Appropriate use of photographs in social media by a business was one issue that generated intense discussion among the seminar participants. As one participant noted, just because “everybody” grabs images from other websites and reposts them in connection with their own content does not mean that practice is legal. And it is important for a new business owner to remember that posting content to social media as a business is different than posting or commenting on something in an individual capacity. Business owners using social media need to be careful to comply with copyright and fair use laws. Even when the business owner takes the photo and posts it to social media, if the post is for commercial purposes, a release from anyone who may appear to be promoting your business may be necessary.

In addition to being cognizant of what other people are saying about their business on social media, business owners should keep in mind how their employees are using social media at work. Including a social media policy in an employee handbook that sets forth expectations and clear guidelines for the use of social media at work can go a long way toward avoiding problems. In addition, Washington businesses should be aware of the state’s laws regarding an employer’s ability to access the personal social media accounts of employees and potential employees.

The bottom line is that business owners should be mindful that the Internet is forever. Social media can be a boon for a small business, but it is important not only to be out there spreading the word about your business – but to also keep in mind that using social media as a business is not the same as in an individual capacity. Business owners need to be aware of what laws might apply to their social media activities.

Photo credit: Stacey Romberg

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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