The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury

Chapter 7: Social Media Marketing Tips for Small Business: Cut Your Advertising Injury Exposure
Part 1: Tips for Reducing Social Media Marketing Risks

When building out your social media marketing plan, remember that advertising injuries can arise from posts on your small business's profile, your personal profile, or your employees' profiles under the right circumstances. Your best line of defense is to understand your risks and proceed with caution. Below are some ideas that can help mitigate your risks and ensure your business thrives online.

Create a Social Media Policy for Your Small Business

Though some small business insurance policies can safeguard your business against an array of social media legal entanglements, it's best to avoid a fiasco in the first place.

You may consider creating a social media policy to help keep everyone on the same page — especially if a handful of employees manage your small business's online presence. Your social media policy should outline what is and is not acceptable to publish online. That way, if someone breaches the policy, you can make a case for your business.

Your social media policy should include…

  • An outline what is and isn't acceptable to publish online.
  • Definitions and examples of social media violations, such as libel, slander, copyright infringement, privacy invasion / harassment, and misappropriation of someone's image.
  • An explanation of what professional online behavior entails.
  • A ban on comments about the company or its employees that don't represent its values, even if employees are posting via their private social media accounts after work hours.
  • A prohibition of defamatory posts about your company.

Consider incorporating your social media policy into your employees' training to ensure they understand the material. And remember, if your staff networks on sites like LinkedIn under your company's name, those connections could belong to the business. Be sure to clarify this issue in your business's policy.

When in Doubt, Ask for Permission

It's easy to forget that all's not fair in love and social media. If you post someone else's photos on your business's profile, you run the risk of copyright infringement or misappropriation claims. That's why you should always get permission from the copyright holder or the individual before you use or post…

  • A photo, article, or other work that may be copyright-protected.
  • An image of someone else.
  • Someone else's name or words (e.g., a client's testimonial).

In other words, if you can't (or don't want to) get the permission to use certain brand names, slogans, images, or blogs, don't post them to your social media page. The same goes for content revolving around your customers — if you can't get permission to use a name, image, or likeness, don't post them to social media!

Think Before You Tweet

It's true — what you publish on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media site can result in a libel or slander claim against your business, so long as what you said was false and damaged the person's reputation. Avoid these allegations by…

  • Proofreading each post before it's made public. [Editor's note: we sure do!]
  • Not writing or saying untrue things about another person in a public space.
  • Fact checking.
  • Handling inflammatory remarks aimed at your business in a professional, respectful manner.
  • Never publishing something that could be misconstrued as defamatory or derogatory.
  • Never publishing someone else's private information.
  • Assume everything you post online is public.

When in doubt about whether a post is offensive or not, err on the side of caution and keep it to yourself. Remember, there's no hiding from online discretions. Usually before you can hit the "delete" button on a post or tweet, at least a dozen people have already seen it. While you promote your business's products or services on social media sites, keep in mind that everything you do or say online will become public. That way, you'll be encouraged to only show the best side of your company.

Mitigate the Risk of Social Media Hacks

Though social media hacks and mistakes can lead to revenue losses and costly lawsuits, your business can take steps to minimize its chances of facing these events. After all, the Ponemon Institute's 2013 Cost of a Data Breach Report [PDF] found that 35 percent of data breaches are caused by human error and another 29 percent by system glitches. Consider the following tips to keep your business out of harm's way on social networking sites:

  • Create and enforce a social media policy. Tailor your plan to your company's specific needs, its social media accounts, and its risks. Be sure you train your employees on the policy so they understand what they can and can't do online. Social media platforms change quickly, so be sure your policy is always up to date to reflect these changes and emerging sites.
  • Carry insurance coverages that indemnify and defend your business. When your business is dragged into court by someone who claims you committed libel or falsely advertised, the costs can add up quickly. You'd have to take time off to appear in court, retain an attorney, and potentially pay a considerable amount in settlement fees. Fortunately, adequate insurance protection can pay for your legal costs when you are the target of a social media-related claim. For example, a General Liability (GL) policy can step in to cover advertising injury claims arising from slander, libel, privacy invasion, copyright infringement, and misappropriation.
  • Promptly respond to cyber breaches. If you notice that your social media account has been hacked, notify the appropriate platform administrators immediately. For example, Facebook has a "Hacked Accounts" page that walks you through the steps to take when your profile has been compromised.

The bottom line: Safeguarding your business against social media hacks and reputation-damaging posts you to be proactive and prepared. Only a comprehensive risk management approach is sure to maximize your recovery and offset potential losses.

Next: Part 2: How to Use Customer Photos Online – Legally

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