Using Facebook to Grow Your Business? Know the Risks & Exposures

18. March 2013 15:16

social media liability risk

Small-business owners know that engagement with customers and prospects is key to growing. In the Internet age, many of the most powerful tools for engaging with your current and prospective clients are online. And while Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn are important players in the social media landscape, Facebook remains king, with Internet users spending the greatest share of their online minutes on this site.

In fact, even though Facebook only ranks fourth in total web visitors, it holds the number-one spot for visit length. Translation: your prospects are spending a lot of time on Facebook.

Naturally, it makes sense to be where potential clients are hanging out – but before you plow ahead with your current Facebook operations, take a moment to make sure you’ve adequately protected your business against the risks that a Facebook presence exposes you to.

What’s So Risky about Facebook?

Too many small-business owners assume that low-cost marketing opportunities like those provided by Facebook also have a low risk profile. Businesses using Facebook, though, actually expose themselves to a number of risks every day, including…

  • The risk of (very) public bad reviews. Anyone can post on your Facebook wall, which is plainly visible to fans of your page as well as those who come across it while researching your business. Managing the risk of bad reviews on your own turf requires that you commit to regularly checking your page and having a system for handling negative content. While some bad reviews are unfounded and not worth responding to, others may point out legitimate problems about your business and, if handled properly, can be leveraged into opportunities for demonstrating your commitment to improving customer experience.
  • The risk of spam blogs overtaking your content. Advertisers and others looking for easy ways to push their name are known for posting spammy comments and blogs on business Facebook pages. Again, a regularly checking and managing your page is key to minimizing the impact of such content.
  • The risk of a security breach. Any online presence comes with the risk of security breaches. If you are signed in to your company’s Facebook account (or other social media accounts), any site you visit with “Like” or “Share” buttons can track your movements online. Similarly, apps you use on your page may gather information about you or your fans, which exposes everyone to data breaches.

Your Legal Liability Exposures from Facebook

Each of the above risks may seem like a minor inconvenience, but they could actually expose your business to legal liability – aka, legal responsibility to pay damages.

Specifically, a business Facebook account exposes you to…

  • Liability for personal injury. A virus or bot that violates the privacy of one of your users could easily trigger a personal injury suit that could lead to tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
  • Liability for advertising injury. False advertising can come with liability and financial obligations. This is one reason it’s so crucial to maintain strict standards for what can and cannot be posted on your company’s page.
  • Liability for defamation. Libel and slander can come with serious financial penalties, and on Facebook it’s all too easy to dash off a comment about a competitor or customer that gets misconstrued and ends up costing you in court.

Managing Your Risks on Facebook

So how can you minimize your risk while maintaining a presence on Facebook and other social media sites? Commit to actively managing your account with a focus on risk management. This should involve…

  • Cleaning up your timeline. Remember: you can delete old posts on your wall. Make a habit of cleaning up any materials that aren’t consistent with the brand image you’re trying to portray online.
  • Reviewing privacy, policy, and procedural guidelines. Before installing new apps or social readers, find out what information they’ll share about you. Decide whether the increased convenience or functionality is worth the loss of privacy.
  • Logging out. The only way to prevent social media sites from tracking your online behavior is to log out of those sites before browsing the web.
  • Establishing a network policy. Determine when and how you’re okay with being tagged in online media. Remove tags from photos and videos that aren’t consistent with your guidelines.
  • Proceeding with caution. Above all, use common sense online. Remember that your friends, too, can report information that might not flatter you, and communicate with them about taking comments down if necessary.

For more tips on managing your social media risks, check out our eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury.

Writtten by Brenna Lemieux – check her out at Google+ or Twitter.

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