Your business’s online presence is a key component to building its reputation. Without a constellation of social media accounts, online reviews, and mobile-friendly options, your business is essentially invisible online.
However, as valuable as these are, they can also be risky. For example, if one angry response to a bad review goes viral, suddenly you’re the laughingstock of the Internet.
But it’s not just dings to your reputation you have to worry about. The Internet now gives you and your employees ample opportunities to make missteps that can lead to lawsuits. Let’s take a look at some of these risky interactions and how to avoid them.
1. One Late-Night Defamatory Comment
Imagine you had a bad experience with a vendor. They were late with a delivery, you ended up losing money, and they’ve done nothing to make up for it. No one can blame you for calling them crooks via Facebook.
Except the vendor does. They claim your comment qualifies as defamation, and before you know it, you’re defending yourself in front of a judge.
Defamation is the term for false statements that harm someone’s reputation. You’ve probably heard of the two types:
- Libel: written defamatory statements.
- Slander: spoken defamatory statements.
Even accidental defamation can trigger a lawsuit. And let’s be clear – reputational harm is expensive. In fact, Insurance Journal notes the average cost of a reputational harm claim is about $50,000.
To boot, a defamation lawsuit can drag your name through the mud, too. Think of it this way: you are essentially the face of your business. If you’re accused of making false statements, consumers may decide your business is untrustworthy, too.
The fix: Be careful about what you say online. People are watching, so make sure every comment and tweet is professional.
2. That Borrowed Image on Your Blog
Copyright infringement is the use of someone else’s copyrighted material without their permission. That seems simple enough to avoid, but technology has actually made it difficult. In fact, you may have infringed on someone’s copyright just by:
- Using your smartphone to pipe in background music.
- Grabbing an image from a website for your blog.
- Posting a video to your newsfeed.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about copyrights is that the creator doesn’t have to do anything to earn the status. Once material is in a tangible form, the creator holds the copyright.
The fix: Only use fair use photos on your business’s blog. You can buy rights to images from a stock photo site, or you can explore free fair use photo sites like Unsplash.
3. A Tweet of a Celebrity Sporting Your Goods
Sharing an image of a celebrity using your product may seem like advertising gold – until they sue you for misappropriation. That’s right: using someone’s image, name, or likeness without their permission can be considered an invasion of privacy, and it’s a big advertising no-no.
Take, for example, the lawsuit Katherine Heigl brought against pharmacy chain Duane Reade. Someone from the drugstore’s team tweeted a photo of the actress carrying its bags and claiming even she couldn’t resist shopping there. Heigl objected to her image being used for marketing without her permission and sued for $6 million.
The fix: Don’t use photos of anyone – celebrity or otherwise – without their permission.
How to Avoid Online Snafus
That last thing you want to do is waste your time, money, or reputation on mistakes that can be avoided. And while General Liability Insurance can help you if your online interactions turn into lawsuits, it’s smart to avoid kerfuffles in the first place.
One way to do that is to create a policy that outlines appropriate online interactions. For instance, you may want to include…
- An explanation of what constitutes appropriate online behavior. This might provide instructions for checking copyright information, requirements to proofread every post, and bans on defamatory language.
- Definitions of key terms. Employees have an easier time avoiding libel, slander, and copyright infringement if they know what they are.
- A list of employees who are allowed to post on behalf of your business. Select employees with social media experience, and consider requiring their approval before anything goes online.
- Guidelines for responding to negative reviews. A prompt, courteous response goes a long way toward soothing ruffled feathers. Put someone in charge that has solid customer service skills.
Staying on top of your online reputation can take a lot of your attention, especially if you’re active on review sites. If you find yourself spread too thin, hiring a reputation management company may be the way to go.
About the Author
Virginia Hamill is a content writer at Insureon, an online small business insurance agency.