Top 10 legal pitfalls to avoid in social marketing!

sheepIn the past, marketing managers used social media as just another channel for publishing content and listening to their community. However, to maximize the success of social marketing, you need to become adept at integrating social media into your existing marketing programs and strategies. In fact, you have to do more than social media. You have to do social marketing!

Increasingly, marketing managers are exploring new ways to use a variety of channels in order to reach audiences with compelling content. Perhaps what many don’t realise is that there new rules and regulations that have an impact on how this can be done and this is an area where many marketing professionals may have a knowledge gap.

These are my Top 10 legal pitfalls to avoid when thinking about using social marketing.

#1: Using logos and marks in association with your goods and services

Sounds innocent enough, but if you use a bunch of trademarks that don’t belong to you then there’s a risk that legal proceedings could be brought for infringement of those intellectual property rights that belong to someone else!

Tip: When in doubt, always seek permission in writing from those that own the trademark or logo. To find out this information, visit the official trademarks register in your country. In the UK this is

#2: Snooping technologies to track customer behaviour

Data drives marketing. Without it, you can’t do your job, so detailed information on who buys online as well as what’s of interest to them as they browse is incredibly valuable. A whole industry exists to help provide the granularity of data you need to run successful marketing campaigns. The law that regulates this area changed in February 2013 and now anyone who undertakes this type of activity anywhere in the European Union must comply with these new regulations.

Tip: On your web site notify users explaining the collection and use of web viewing data for online behavioural advertising. More detail is available in my latest book, Essential Law for Marketers.

#3: Spamming potential B2C customers with your newsletter

You’re excited to share important information about your products and services and want to tell the world. Except you can’t! In pretty much any jurisdiction in the world there are laws and regulations that exist that protect the privacy of individuals whose details may be stored on a database.

Tip: Check data protection rules and regulations which place duties and responsibilities on how this type of marketing activity can be legally conducted. Within the EU, this activity is subject to the 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations.

#4: Enticing an individual to forward your newsletter to a friend in return for a reward

You recognise the viral power of online ‘word of mouth’ and you want to reward someone for helping you in this activity by offering a personal incentive for a ‘forward to a friend’ B2C campaign. However, the recipient can only do this if they think the recipient would be happy to receive it – otherwise that person is spamming people on your behalf!

Tip: Check data protection laws that apply in your territory as well as think about using professional third party suppliers to help distribute your newsletter that is compliant with data protection laws and regulations, such as Vocus.

#5: Pre-ticked consent boxes for a B2B email marketing campaign

You want to make life easy for business clients to receive information about your products and services, so a pre-ticked consent box may sound like a neat idea, except this doesn’t comply with best practice.

Tip: Provide a simple and quick method for customers and clients to opt-out of receiving B2B email marketing messages at no cost other than that of sending the message. Promptly comply with opt-out requests. Vocus provides a neat email newsletter solution.

#6: Using a blog post to attack the competition and their products and services

Just because it’s a blog post and an opinion that you want to freely express and share with millions of people on the web doesn’t somehow afford you protection outside of the law. There’s no difference between this and running knocking copy in an advert in a national newspaper!

Tip: Never check – double check! Any derogatory claim about a competitor’s product or service must be factually based otherwise you could face an expensive action in libel. Also other regulations will apply, for example in the UK such activity is subject to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

#7: Using 140 characters in a Tweet where what you mean can be open to misinterpretation

Tweeting is now a fact of life and most marketers do it almost without thinking about the consequences. For example, a tweet mustn’t be misleading or in any way attack the integrity or reputation of an individual.

Tip: Customers may want to use Twitter to air a grievance about your company, its products or services. You can’t say they are bonkers or completely wrong and should go away as this will simply fan the flames of anger and spread across cyberspace. Better to take these complaints seriously, acknowledge them and offer to investigate these by taking it off-line.

#8: Using LinkedIn and Facebook to make outrageous claims about your products and services

Even if you think that the community you’re connected with will happily receive this over-the-top content which in the past we’d refer to as being “puff” you’re still subject to the laws and regulations that restrict advertising both offline and online.

Tip: Avoid “puffing” your products and services and instead focus on getting testimonials from real customers and clients as this is more powerful as a component of social marketing.

#9: Using pictures in YouTube and Pinterest

The world of marketing is all about pictures and the temptation is to use photographs and videos in order to help promote your products and services. Whilst this is an excellent way of conducting your marketing campaigns, you will still be subject to copyright issues if you don’t own those images or use a customer or client’s image where you don’t have their permission to do so.

Tip: Creative Commons is a non-profit that offers an alternative to full copyright. Visit

#10: Not keeping up to date with changes in laws and regulations affecting social marketing

Marketers constantly have to navigate through a thicket of news laws and regulations that are being created to protect identity and privacy of millions of people around the world who are putting pressure on legislators to bring in more draconian measures that could have far reaching consequences in the way we conduct marketing programmes across borders.

Tip: Subscribe to the Guru in a Bottle ™ newsletter in order to stay up-to-date with the latest news and developments in this area.

Ardi Kolah is the co-author of a new Vocus White Paper that provides practical guidance on the use of social marketing. Click here to register for a FREE download today.

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