Growing numbers of consumers are choosing businesses based on their online presence and reputation.

In fact, nearly two thirds of consumers consider small businesses with a web and social media presence to be progressive and up-to-date.

Social media is a fantastic way of expanding your reach to potential customers, driving your brand and sharing knowledge with other business owners. And you can do this for relatively little outlay, which makes it a perfect marketing tool for small businesses.

But before you start tapping away at your keyboard, there are a few things to think about to make sure you stay legal when it comes to copyright and defamation. After all, you want to create an online reputation for the right reasons.

Creating connections

As well as giving you the chance to connect online, social media is a good way to broadcast your marketing messages. Any small-business owner who has done research into online marketing will know that creating compelling content is a way to position yourself as an expert in your field.

If you write content, it must be your own. If you want to use somebody else’s content, ask for written permission first, otherwise you could breach copyright laws. It’s important that you credit your sources, too.

Stay focused

Social media is a great place to share a joke and even let off steam. It’s all part of the fun. It can also offer a lifeline to anyone working alone, unable to share the ups and downs of running a business.

But it’s sensible to keep your comments business focused, even if you’re posting on a personal account. Your anonymity isn’t protected by your username, so any comment you make can be traced back to you.

The same goes for your employees. It should be made clear that they represent the business, even when using their own name.

Losing control

Tone is difficult to convey through text. What you may have meant as a joke might not be taken with the pinch of salt you might expect. And once you’ve posted something on Twitter or Facebook the audience is potentially huge, so it can be hard to maintain control.

If you realise you’ve made a mistake, even though you can delete your post, the content may have already been shared.

All in moderation

It’s not unusual for websites to encourage comment. You don’t even have to operate a forum to do this. But when you open yourself up in this way, you should think about putting some form of monitoring in place to make sure that all comments are appropriate.

Forums often have enthusiasts who will nominate themselves as moderators, and on most blog platforms you can moderate each comment yourself before it goes live. Whichever way you choose, it’s important to have  clear take-down procedures in place. And your site must be monitored all the time. If somebody has a grudge, they may take it out on you when you least expect.

Finally, keep log-in details of any online accounts limited to a few trusted people. Remember the disgruntled HMV employee who took over the official Twitter account to express dissatisfaction when the company announced mass redundancies? The management didn’t know who had the log-in details, or how to shut the feed down. There’s a lesson there for all businesses.

Protecting your business

A good professional indemnity policy will protect your business if you make a mistake in your work. And that can include copyright infringement and defamation too. If you communicate on behalf of business, and that can mean anything from writing blogs to replying to comments on your website, it makes sense to choose a policy that offers a good level of protection.

Anyone working in media or PR could consider cover for crisis management too. Crisis management insurance can help to minimise the damage to your reputation should you make a mistake. It will also help when your brand needs to recover.

Avoiding social media mistakes

Here are some tips on protecting your online reputation

  • Don’t moan about a client or customer. Even if you don’t use their name, it’s not good for your reputation to complain about clients.
  • Be careful not to link to any potentially defamatory material. Take care when re-tweeting information. The original information may not have been intended for publication.
  • Always use your own content, or credit sources when you use information provided by somebody else.
  • If you have employees, put an internet policy in place to include social media and make sure your employees are clear on their responsibilities
  • Think about how social media used in a personal capacity may link with work – if you have clients that follow you, be careful about posting comments about business.
  • Keep access to log-in details limited to a few people
  • If users and customers can post comments, make sure you have a take-down procedure in place.
  • Your website (depending on content) may need to be monitored 24/7, 365 days a year
  • Have professional indemnity insurance in place that suits the needs of your business

To learn more about personal indemnity, visit our article on what is professional indemnity insurance.