What Barbra Streisand can teach us about Social Media

Believe it or not, Barbra Streisand has learned a lot about social media and how the wrong decision can spread like wildfire on the web.  Simply google ‘Streisand Effect’ and you’ll see just what can happen when the law mixes with social media.

Businesses should take heed from Barb’s mistake and avoid legal risks by learning their rights and responsibilities online as it’s not always as straightforward as you may think.

In fact, a quick pop quiz.  Fact or fiction: retweeting someone else’s content on Twitter could land you in court under copyright charges?  Most of us would write this off as fiction, as something at the very core of Twitter is its capacity to spread news across the web using the simple ‘RT’.  But a recent UK High Court decision involving copyright of newspaper headlines – arguably the closest thing to 140 characters in terms of word length – confirmed that there was considerable skill involved in devising those headlines and that copyright had therefore been breached.  If such a scenario could occur, what other legalities do brands need to be wary of online?

I was fortunate enough to head along to the NSW Business Chamber’s event ‘Social Media and the Web – the Legal Risks’ recently and heard Elizabeth Briggs discuss the ins and outs of copyright, defamation and privacy on social media.  And what I and the host of HR, legal and business folk around the room took from the session was that it is far better to plan ahead than to find out too late.

As many organisations make their first forays into social media activity, it’s rare that legal ramifications are on top of the list of considerations.  But the reality is that anything published publically online can be tracked and used as evidence should laws be breached, and that sort of thing will often put a fairly abrupt stop to any community manager’s dreams of social media triumph.

So what should you, as a business, be doing to ensure your plans are watertight and avoid legal risk?  Here are a few simple tips to keep out of trouble and give your social media strategy the best chance of success:

  1. Protect yourself and your employees: One of the first steps prior to online activity is to establish a social media policy for your business.  Work collaboratively with legal, HR and marketing to ensure the policy is relevant, effective and easily understood.  Also make sure employees are properly trained and educated to avoid any nasty surprises.
  2. Set rules and be transparent: When setting up social media assets, businesses often forget the simple things like House Rules for Facebook or disclaimers for Twitter accounts.  Transparency is key online so set the rules and stick to them so your communities (internal and external) know where they stand.
  3. Plan, plan, plan: Do you have a crisis response plan?  Do you have an issues management process with example responses to draw from should the unexpected happen?  While it is important to have the necessary guidelines and training in place for your online advocates, it’s also vital to consider and plan for the unexpected so you’re prepared and ready to respond immediately to limit legal risk.
  4. Read policies: You might be interested to know that Facebook’s Privacy Policy doesn’t cover Australia’s Privacy Act and businesses can still be found liable, even after meeting Facebook’s requirements.  Make sure you read the fine print and avoid unnecessary risk.
  5. Understand the platforms: Take the time to learn the nuances and customs for each platform as this will help to avoid any potential slip ups which could result in trouble (like @ replying sensitive information when you mean to DM on Twitter).

Provided you take the time to plan your steps toward social media engagement, there are a wealth of opportunities out there for businesses to build stronger and more genuine relationships with stakeholders.  But remember to do the work upfront so you don’t get caught out and end up back at Copyright School like poor old Russell.