Social Media Compliance: Regulation and Image Use

 

As has happened with other emerging forms of communication, the creation of laws and policy regarding social media has somewhat lagged behind the development of the medium itself. This gap will likely always exist to at least a certain extent, but that doesn’t mean that an increasing number of social media marketers won’t find themselves facing social media lawsuits, criticisms, or other headaches when they’ve made a mistake that relates to social media compliance.

This article is the first in an occasional series that MindEcology will publish over the next few months highlighting areas of concern – as well as resources that will help you sidestep trouble without compromising your content.

ISSUE ONE: REGULATORY COMPLIANCE

If you work in an industry subject to government regulation – like financial services, housing, or healthcare- it’s extremely important that your social media manager knows what types of content is off limits, risky, or requires multiple layers of approval before posting.

It’s also a good idea for companies working in regulated spaces to have an employee social media policy– or in other words, a set of social media guidelines for all employees, not just those who manage social media on behalf of your brand.

This may seem like over-reach, but free speech issues aside, employees working in regulated industries don’t have unlimited rights when it comes to digital marketing content. A seemingly innocuous Tuesday evening tweet by an enthusiastic team member, like “Big news coming from my office tomorrow- but shhhh, it’s a secret!” might in fact be exposing your company and your employee to liability, even though said employee was posting on his personal account. Hence the benefit of guidelines: They give both employers and employees a framework with which to protect themselves.

Some compliance resources to investigate include:

Specialized legal counsel. Law firms with communications expertise can work with your company’s in-house lawyer or your HR team to develop policy and identify areas of risk.

Professional associations. Contact the ones who work in your industry and ask if they have social media white papers, online courses, or other resources they can share, or if the topic of social media compliance is going to be on the agenda at any upcoming conferences.

If you find out that there is little in the way of existing guidelines, no worries. This is an excellent opportunity for your company to show industry thought leadership by leading the charge to get some guidelines created. You’ll likely find that your colleagues and competitors will be happy to collaborate with you on this type of groundbreaking initiative.

ISSUE TWO: IMAGE USE

The sharing of copyright-protected images without permission is rampant across all social media channels, both by individuals and by businesses. But as Mom always said, just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t make it right, or that you should do it, too. (“Everyone else is doing it” probably won’t be a particularly effective legal strategy should you find yourself getting sued, either.)

If you’re a savvy social media marketer, you know that content with images tends to get the most engagement. So the prospect of churning out lots of social content without doing at least a teensy bit of questionable image “borrowing” may seem daunting indeed. Don’t worry, you can do it. Here are a few resources that can help:

Smart stock purchases. An investment of some time and a little bit of money can produce a decent library of engaging, not-so-ordinary images that you can re-cycle over time. (Hint: Identify five or six categories of images that you need on a regular basis, then go look for two or three images that you can slot into each category.)

Ask for permission. You’d be surprised at how many image owners are okay – even happy- to give permission for re-use of their content as long as (a) you don’t crop and mangle the image you are borrowing and (b) you provide attribution.

By the way: Asking for permission doesn’t always have to be a formal process – it can often be accomplished by a phone call, an email or a comment on a Facebook thread.

In many cases, in fact, appropriate attribution (and appropriate use of the image) can even negate the need to even ask. If you’re a tourism bureau, for example, you can probably safely assume that the local theatrical company is happy to have you post some images from their current production. In those instances, you may want to seek out a blanket agreement that establishes the content owner is okay with you aggregating/borrowing their content on a regular basis, either for a specified time period or indefinitely.

Get a better idea. Does Instagram really need yet another copyright-infringing meme of the Dos Equis guy or Jerry Seinfeld featuring an allegedly hilarious statement in huge generic white type? Unleash your creativity and come up with something different.

Find free image sources. There are a growing number of excellent collections of free images, both in the “free to use” and copyright sense, and many of them feature stunning, high-quality content. Here’s one place where you can get started.

Note: Search with caution. Some sites boasting “free images” are actually malware sites designed to inflict harm upon your computer. Also, “free” is a relative term. Some free image library curators only grant such permission for editorial and non-commercial uses. Read carefully before downloading.