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How to Keep Your Company Legal on Social Media

Scales of Justice

While the term “social media” may imply casual, personal interaction, in reality, it has become tremendously important in the business world in terms of marketing, brand development and protection, and employment. As you incorporate social media into your company’s operations, Seattle business lawyers and other legal experts advise you to tread carefully.

When Employee Use of Social Media Raises Issues

Navigating the twists and turns of social media can be especially difficult when dealing with employees, especially when used to make hiring- and firing-related decisions. Here are a few examples:

  • If reviewing job candidates’ Facebook postings is part of your selection process, you could wind up seeking the best discrimination attorney Seattle has to offer should you choose not to hire someone based on offensive comments of a religious or political nature.
  • A new employee could accidentally violate a non-compete agreement simply by updating their job status on LinkedIn, which will automatically notify all of their contacts that they are working for you. If you were aware of the agreement, you could also be named in a lawsuit for interfering in a business relationship.
  • Your employee created a personal Twitter account but has used it to promote your business and gained many followers. Should your employee leave the company, those followers “belong” to the employee, not your business, and you’ll not only have to rebuild your following on another account, but you also won’t have any way to monitor or direct what your now-former employee tweets.
  • An employee in charge of your company’s social media posts something disparaging about another company or person, your company could be considered responsible for “vicarious liability” due to the comments.

For best practices, avoid using employees’ personal social media to make employment decisions. Establish company-owned social media accounts, and ensure that they are monitored by more than one individual so that they enhance your brand and drive customers in your direction, rather than away from you.

Copyright Concerns Your Seattle Business Lawyer May Have

Social media-related corporate lawsuits Seattle companies may wind up facing also include those related to intellectual property and copyright infringement. Photoshop-altered images that add a celebrity’s face in an amusing photograph, spoof a pop song, or carefully rearrange letters in a logo to spell an alternate word may make for funny internet memes that get reposted on Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, but they can also create some serious legal concerns. Take steps to trademark your company name and logo and register them in an account on social media websites, which will give you a strong legal leg to stand on if you ever need to challenge another individual or business who is trying to use them on those sites. If your own website allows users to freely post or share information and images, follow the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act and put a “notice and takedown” statement on your website. This establishes the fact that your company passively allows information to flow through your website, but that you will take steps to respond to or remove content that is protected by copyright when you are notified that it has been posted on your website.

Should you discover your own copyrighted material or trademarked logo are being misused on a social media site, be sure to respond appropriately. Not all violations are equal: The person who is selling scads of apparel printed with an image created by your company is far different from the mom who posted a YouTube video of her cat apparently singing along with your company’s jingle. Make sure there is a clear commercial or financial reason to pursue a legal claim.

Don’t Forget Privacy Protections and Common Sense

It’s not uncommon for businesses to sell email addresses or other information to third parties. But before you decide to disclose any information your company has gathered on social media contacts or via your website, be sure that you’ve disclosed in advance how you plan to use the information. Failure to inform can be considered a deceptive business practice, and you don’t want to have to hire a Seattle business lawyer to defend you against that. Instead, create and follow a clear privacy policy that is posted in an easy-to-find location on your website. You should also establish social media policies to establish how your company will handle social media and protect you if legal concerns arise. Both your privacy and social media policies should be reviewed by an experienced Seattle business lawyer.

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