Social networking sites have proven to be more than just a fad; they are now essential to businesses wishing to cultivate an online presence. Some law firms have even attempted to serve process via social media!
As social networking proves to be an effective tool for attracting clients and customers, more law firms and legal associates have gotten involved with sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
These sites allow for the quick and easy dissemination of information to a wide audience. A quick dialogue with an anonymous Internet user could even lead to new business.
However, using social networking sites can have legal risks. It is a good idea to take precautions to mitigate potential liability.
Here are some things to consider when using social networking sites:
1. Be Careful Not to Share Too Much On Social Media
It’s easy to get caught up in Twitter, where all you do is post updates of your current or recent activities in 140 characters or less.
The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct require confidentiality between a lawyer and client. This is common knowledge, but an attorney who gets too caught up in the spirit of Twitter’s “say anything” theme might end up accidentally divulging too much information about a client or case.
On a similar note, a disclaimer in your profile stating that comments are not to be construed as legal advice is definitely a good idea.
2. Be Aware of Copyrighted Material
Information is passed around so quickly on social networking sites that it is easy to forget where the material originated. Be careful not to post a piece that you do not have permission to use. Ask for permission to repost articles, and make sure you provide proper attribution for the material you use.
On the other hand, remember the right to your own intellectual property. Make sure you understand what intellectual property is protected by copyright, and protect your own writing by providing conditions for the reposting of your material.
Monitor new trademarks, domain names and other online content to make sure that your company is not violating copyright and to be sure that competitors are not stealing from you.
3. Take Advertising Fundamentals into Account
You already know how social networking can be an effective marketing tool. But even though it can seem like anything goes when working with social media, you should still be careful to use smart advertising practices.
If you are advertising a particular promotion, do your best to actually promote it in several places beyond social networking sites — don’t just post it once on Twitter in hopes of getting retweeted.
You also want to make sure your sites are free of “advertising in disguise.”
For example, the Federal Trade Commission can fine a blogger up to $11,000 for not disclosing that they received compensation for a product endorsement. Although companies probably won’t send you products to review, it’s smart to be up-front about your services on your website, blog and any social media profile.
4. Create Policies for Social Networking Use
One of the reasons people are attracted to social media is its sense of immediacy and spontaneity.
Of course, leaving social media updates to different employees means information that should have been edited or dropped altogether might get posted for the whole world to see.
Develop policies for employee use of social media. Instill employees with the knowledge that their actions on social networking sites are representative of the entire company.
In your policies, cover your bases — discuss responsibility, ownership of intellectual property and liability. It would also be wise to look at each social networking site you use and go over the terms of service.
Keep in mind the legal ramifications of using social networking sites, and that will lead to a successful online presence!