Before launching your next promotion on social media or decisively responding to that unfavourable review, it is also important to be aware of the legal pitfalls.

Social media presents a minefield of potential legal issues that need to be carefully navigated – here’s some tips for you to make it easier.

Australians are increasingly turning to social media to guide their purchasing decisions.

Now, more than ever before, it can make good business sense for small and medium businesses to participate in the different channels social media has to offer.

However, before launching your next promotion on social media or decisively responding to that unfavourable review, it is also important to be aware of the legal pitfalls.

Discussions on social media sites are available for the world to see so care needs to be taken to ensure your comments do not cause damage to an individual’s reputation.

Defamation laws have been developed to provide recourse to people whose reputation is harmed by information published about them.

While there are various defences to allegations of defamation, such as truth or fair comment, the circumstances which these defences apply are quite specific.

As a general rule, it makes good sense to avoid comments that may cause a reader to think less of someone. Of course, harassing or bullying behaviour online is also unacceptable.

One knee jerk reaction to criticism published online is to demand such content be taken down by way of a cease and desist letter.

While not to put lawyers out of a job, the short history of social media suggests that such tactics could actually backfire and instead encourage a barrage of online consumer backlash.

In certain circumstances, it’s advisable to consider responding positively to a negative situation. For instance, you could express your disappointment that the customer has had a bad experience and advising of any follow up actions your business has taken.

Customer privacy is also another important consideration when posting online. Never disclose a customer’s personal information, such as credit card details or address. Should you require a customer’s details to follow up a specific issue or request, ask them to contact your business offline.

In order to respond to potential legal issues that social media raises, many businesses are setting out clear rules about how social media may be used.

A social media policy is an effective tool to help ensure you and your business comply with the law. A social media policy should:

Set out what acceptable and unacceptable behaviour looks like;

Make it clear that defamation and harassment is unacceptable;

Identify the personnel who are authorised to engage in social media on behalf of your business; and

Include the consequences of breaching the policy.

Above all, adopting a common sense approach and engaging in social media with a sense of responsibility and respect will help ensure your business not only remains dear to consumers’ hearts, but also stays on the right side of the law.


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