Increasing brand presence in social media calls for help from legal departments. As brands step into open commentary space, they need to protect their name as well as the rights of those consumers creating content on their company sponsored pages. The latest updates to FTC guidelines–which insist on disclosure of all material connections and hold marketers liable for false information that may transpire as a result of their social media programs–are all the more reason to get professional legal advice before launching an online campaign.
As social media is still an evolving marketing area, many marketers and their counselors are challenged by the absence of precedents. New tools and functionalities pop up almost every day. Existing platforms, such as Facebook, may change their rules as they go along, responding to public criticism. Moreover, content ownership in social media remains a gray area, where one company provides the frame (e.g., Facebook), another sponsors the area (e.g., your brand) and audience creates the content.
Here are some suggestions that can increase collaboration between marketing teams and their legal advisors, while helping brands navigate social media waters as safely as possible:
1- Disclosure should be top priority. Include the necessary statements in your social media communications and Web areas to abide by the FTC guidelines. Refer to disclosure statements suggested by WOMMA. Consider adopting a system such as cmp.ly, which provides an FTC-compliant software platform to organize all communications between a brand, bloggers and other social media participants.
2- If you are signing contracts with bloggers, spell out the terms of disclosure as part of the deal.
3- If employees are likely to chime into social media discussions about your brand, provide them with the necessary training and information so they know how to disclose their relationship with the brand.
4- Work with legal teams at Facebook, Twitter and other popular communities. It is best to go to the very source and ask. Often times, their rules of communication and participation will be laid out under ‘about us’ or ‘corporate’ sections of their Web sites.
5- Encourage all of your team members (i.e., brand marketers and legal) to familiarize themselves with the tools you are deploying. You can have more fruitful discussions, if everyone understands the social media tools’ basic functionality.
6- Speedy response is critical in social media communications. Before launching a project, arrange a core set of team members including a legal counselor who can be on-call to evaluate questionable comments.
7- You do have (some) control of content in branded areas. When planting your brand’s flag in social media and creating areas dedicated to your topics, communicate your rules of communication to your audience. You may reserve the right to remove inappropriate postings. If you are planning to use consumer-generated media in corporate promotions (e.g., ads, releases, etc.) be sure to indicate this as well.