Krista Neher: Images versus text – which is stronger in the world of social media marketing?

Krista Neher, CEO, Boot Camp Digital

Krista Neher, CEO, Boot Camp Digital

With 88 percent of businesses now active on social media, the social media landscape is becoming more cluttered and more difficult. This means that, for businesses, it is becoming harder and harder to break through the noise and be heard.

In order to penetrate the noise, businesses must deliver the right message to the right person in the right way. Increasingly, the way that people want to receive messages online is visually.

We’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is true. The brain can process images faster than text. This is why images are breaking through on social networks — because they provide a quicker way for people to comprehend information.

Image-based social networks, such as Pinterest and Instagram, are among the most popular and quickest-growing social networks online. Images are the most liked and commented on content on Facebook and links to images get the most clicks on Twitter. All signs point toward images as the most popular, most shared and most liked content on social networks.

The point is that with so much content on social media, images are increasingly the content that is breaking through and getting results. I realized this trend and recently published a book called “Visual Social Media Marketing” about how brands can take advantage of this and get results.

So, what can you do to take advantage of this trend? Here are three simple steps to start taking advantage of the visual revolution online.

Include images on your website

The visual Web focuses around images, and as your website is shared online, the images from your website are usually the focus of how your website content is shared.

For example, when I post a link to a website on Facebook, the image is shown beside the link to my content. In this example, I’m sharing a link to our report on Google+. The image of the Google+ report is on our website.

Having the image on our website is important to how the link to our website shows up on Facebook. The reality is that if you want to drive traffic to your website from social media, each page on your site should have relevant images that are appropriate for sharing on social networks.

Use images on existing social networks

If you want your business to be successful on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, images must be a part of your strategy. Consider these statistics:

■  Images are the most shared and clicked on content on Twitter.

■  Images receive 50 percent more interactions on Facebook.

■  Google+ users have uploaded 3.4 billion photos.

■  Recruiters spend more time examining a LinkedIn user’s picture than actually reviewing the person’s qualifications.

These statistics show that if you want to break through on the leading social networks you must have an image strategy. Images are easy to consume and eye-catching, and with all of the content on social networks, images break through and get better results than text updates.

Consider joining Instagram and Pinterest

Instagram and Pinterest are two of the quickest-growing social networks and they can be your way to reach new audiences and get results ahead of your competition. Consider joining these networks and participating in the community to reach your audience in a new and interesting way.

Visual marketing is a trend in social media that you just can’t afford to ignore. If you want your business to stay relevant, drive traffic to your website and build shares and likes on social networks, you can’t afford to ignore the power of images in achieving these objectives. ●

Krista Neher is the CEO of Boot Camp Digital. She is an international speaker and social media thought-leader, as well as the author of “The Social Media Field Guide,” “Visual Social Media Marketing” and “Social Media Marketing: A Strategic Approach.”

SEC says companies may announce key data on social media

WASHINGTON, Wed Apr 3, 2013 — Regulators said on Tuesday that companies can use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to make key announcements as long as they tell investors which sites they will use, an effort to help companies navigate the new media age.

The guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission seeks to clarify disclosure rules after the agency opened an inquiry into a post made last July on the personal Facebook page of Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings.

The SEC investigated whether his announcement that the movie and TV streaming service had hit 1 billion hours viewed in June violated a rule that requires important information to be disclosed to investors at the same time.

The SEC said on Tuesday that it did not initiate an enforcement action or allege wrongdoing in that situation.

But it said staff learned that there was uncertainty about how disclosure rules apply to social media channels.

“One set of shareholders should not be able to get a jump on other shareholders just because the company is selectively disclosing important information,” George Canellos, acting director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement.

How commonly found information can transform your business

Pervez Delawalla, President and CEO, Net2EZ

Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO, Net2EZ

In the past 20 years, companies have been generating an increasing amount of data. The growth of social media has also created a massive pool of information that any company can access, mine and use.

“Utilizing big data can help a company uncover the relationships it has with consumers and businesses that perhaps it didn’t previously realize it had,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “In many ways, that data can help a company gain a better understanding of its clients’ needs and formulate its products to win more business.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about big data and how to effectively store and utilize it to the benefit of your business.

Where can companies find big data, and how can they use it?

With the advent and proliferation of social media, there is information that companies can collect called ‘big data,’ which can be used to analyze, in a cost-effective and time-efficient way, the social habits of consumers. This information allows them to devise targeted marketing campaigns and develop products.

Data about consumers is being collected from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, data about businesses can be collected from sources such as LinkedIn and Foursquare, and there is data contained in emails coming into a company.

Do all companies have access to big data?

In today’s world, any company that uses computers has a big data resource or is collecting it without realizing it. For example, most salespeople have a contact database that includes people they’ve met through work, in their personal lives and through networking. If you are going to meet with the CFO of a potential client company and you learn that someone on your sales team knows that CFO, that is an invaluable personal connection. Knowing about that relationship allows you to bring the person to the meeting and quickly establish a connection.

What challenges come with big data?

Storing big data was traditionally cost prohibitive, which is why only large companies could do it. However, solutions such as new, lower-cost hardware have recently hit the market, which has given smaller companies the ability to have large sets of storage devices to store big data. At the same time, cloud computing allows a company to rent storage on a monthly or short-term basis, meaning more companies can collect, store and mine big data.

Indexing this data so that it can be used to benefit the company is a challenge, but there are plenty of tools available from major software manufacturers that can be used to mine it.

What methods are available to companies to help store this data?

Big data can be stored privately or on servers that host multiple clients. Which option a company chooses depends on how important it is to keep information secure.

Private cloud services give companies a certain amount of secure storage on a server that only belongs to them. The type of data being stored determines which tools are applied to extract it, such as a dashboard through which a company can query or search its data. There are also data feeds that provide ticker updates as data comes in, giving fast access to information.

Public cloud services are available, but are less secure than private services.

How can companies efficiently navigate such large data sets to get the most use out of the information being retained?

It takes some time to understand which data is going to be useful and to learn which tools are available to store and sort it. For example, you could buy and deploy big data-mining tools to start collecting various sets of data from multiple sources, then create a dashboard that puts that information at your fingertips. However, you can’t simply keep storing information and expect results. You need to better understand your company’s demographics and understand what is going to help your company grow. You have to know your end result and employ the tools necessary to achieve it.

Many companies don’t realize what they have beyond their traditional database and that is sometimes where the treasure trove of data exists. Accessing that data will open a world of opportunities.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or [email protected]

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

 

 

Natasha Ashton – How to overcome your social media butterflies and make this powerful force work for you

Natasha Ashton

Natasha Ashton, co-CEO, Petplan

It’s no secret that some companies struggle with creating an effective presence on social media. Navigating the tightrope between overt sales messaging and empty musings is tricky; turn your fans and followers off, and they’ll abandon your page as fast as they can click “unlike.” Inadvertently create a controversy, and, well, the consequences can be ugly (not to mention cached forever, thanks to Google).

The simple fact that most social media is “free” does not mean that we, as business leaders, don’t need to invest in a strategy. While we all know what not to do, it’s much more difficult to create a road map for what will drive engagement across social media.

At Petplan, we integrate our company culture and brand values into our social media activities at every opportunity.

But we don’t just talk about ourselves — we share stories of our fans and family members and invite our community to join in the conversation. We don’t just give news updates; we create destinations that are rich with exclusive content that is truly useful to our community members.

With social media, the driving force behind our approach, as it is with everything else we do, is our core value: Pets come first.

Our approach seems to be working, both in terms of driving incremental traffic to our company and also in raising our profile in traditional media. Two months after creating our Pinterest presence, Social Media Delivered, a social media consulting organization, included Petplan on its list of top 20 companies globally using the site.

Content is king

Content is the currency of social media, so you need to make sure that every tweet, post and pin has value. What makes it worthwhile? If the information you are sharing enables your audience to act on your shared values, it’s worth posting.

For Petplan, that means delivering content that helps people provide the very best for their four-legged family members. It matters to them, and it matters to us — this synergy drives engagement and earns us those ever-important likes, retweets, shares and pins.

Don’t copy, complement

Many businesses make the mistake of putting exactly the same content on all of their social media channels, but this one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.

Each social media site has a distinct character and a unique audience who favors it; if you’re not playing to the medium, chances are you’re missing the message. Share industry and personnel news on LinkedIn, tweet breaking news and updates, post interesting photos and calls to action on Facebook, and pin your most engaging images related to trending topics on Pinterest.

Think of each channel as another facet of your business’s personality and tailor your content to that.

Optimize

If you want to harness the power of social media, you need to make it easy for your audience to share — and easy for the content to be attributed to you. Optimize all your communication channels to include both “share” and “follow” buttons. Make sure your retweet widgets include your Twitter handle.

Use websites like sharethis.com to integrate social media into the content you produce. It will make your customer experience more meaningful and your social media standing more robust.

A solid social media strategy takes planning, time and a lot of attention, but if you invest the resources in building an effective presence, you’ll capture new customers, fans, friends and influencers.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the most important piece of the social media puzzle: analytics. Gaining quantifiable data gives you insight into social sharing behavior that will tell you what you’re doing right (and wrong!), reveal where improvements can be made and keep you on the path to becoming a brand powerhouse in the future.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]

Social media: A window to your intellectual property

Social media tools provide an accessible and inexpensive way for businesses to expand their market footprint. But failure to protect and enforce intellectual property rights may quickly turn a great resource into a major headache, whether or not social media is part of a corporate marketing program, says Alexis Dillett Isztwan of Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia LLC.

Together, social media and intellectual property pose internal and external issues. Internally, a business must monitor and control employee use of intellectual property. Given social media’s accessibility, problems can arise and grow rapidly. Imagine an employee prematurely tweeting about a new product launch or information never intended for the public. To reduce risk, businesses should establish a written social media policy that:

■  Sets clear guidelines for appropriate topics to be posted on any media, including company and employee personal accounts.

■  Identifies personnel permitted to post and the posting approval process.

■  Addresses use of third-party trademarks or copyrights or names of individuals or competitors.

■  Is clearly and regularly communicated and taught through annual training.

Externally, businesses should police unauthorized use of their intellectual property on social media sites. Defamatory comments can take on a life of their own. Businesses must also contend with trademark misuse or infringement, from someone using your trademark as its domain name to assuming your brand identity online, an aggressive practice called “brand-jacking.” To combat these challenges, businesses should:

■  Monitor social media for use of company trademarks.

■  Obtain formal protection for intellectual property, e.g., trademark registrations.

■  Avoid overreaction; weigh impact of potential negative backlash online against severity of misuse.

■  Consider availing itself of the social media site’s enforcement policies.

Alexis Dillett Isztwan, a member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia LLC, concentrates on intellectual property and technology law.

Can social media profiles be trade secrets of your company?

Yuri Mikulka, chair, Intellectual Property Department, Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth

In the age of social media, it seems everything is transparent. In the case of social media contacts, which can be visible to the public through sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, there are questions as to whether that information can, nonetheless, be deemed a trade secret, and if so, who owns the trade secret.

“It was only a few years ago when businesses began incorporating social media in their marketing strategy,” says Yuri Mikulka, chair of the Intellectual Property Department at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. “Now, it’s recognized as one of the most powerful marketing and PR tools for companies, whether big or small. In fact, when positioned well, social media data can serve as an important asset of the company, especially for those relying on Web traffic and member lists to generate revenue.”

Smart Business spoke with Mikulka about ensuring social media information receives the highest possible protection and remains an asset even when employees leave.

What constitutes a trade secret?

Generally speaking, a trade secret is information that derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not readily ascertainable through, proper means by the public. A company can enforce its exclusive right to possess and use such information as long as reasonable measures are employed to keep such information secret.

Can you protect your social media profiles as a viable trade secret?

This emerging area of law was preliminarily addressed in two recent court cases. Christou v. Beatport, LLC centered on ownership of a MySpace list used by a nightclub to promote its events. When an employee opened a competitive venture, the club sued him for misappropriating its MySpace profiles. The employee responded that MySpace is public and cannot constitute a trade secret. The Colorado federal court disagreed, noting that ‘Friend- ing’ a business or individual grants . . . access to some of one’s personal information, information about his or her interests and preferences, and perhaps most importantly for a business, contact information and a built-in means of contact . . . ’ and that this information is not necessarily public.

Another case in a California federal court, PhoneDog v. Kravitz, centered on a Twitter account maintained by an employee on behalf of the employer. The departing employee kept the account for his own use but changed its name and erased any reference to his former employer. The employer sued, seeking $340,000 in damages, allegedly based on an industry value of $2.50 per follower. The court rejected the employee’s argument that a Twitter follower list cannot constitute a trade secret.

These recent decisions seem to indicate that even if social media profiles are visible online, they can receive trade secret protection — as long as some portion remains inaccessible to the public and employee passwords and login are required to view the information. Nonetheless, because these decisions were issued during early stages of cases, keep an eye out for new cases in your jurisdiction on these issues.

How do you protect social media information as potential trade secrets?  

Here’s what your company can do:

• Put in place policies, procedures and employee agreements that outline and define acceptable and prohibited use of social media.

• Make it clear in writing that any work-related social media is company property.

• Have employees sign a social media policy. At least one court recognized the importance of the employee’s signature in determining whether the company owned social media contacts.

• Get employee buy-in to effectively enforce your policy by providing training and seeking participation to protect the company’s confidential information.

• Maintain employees’ login and password information to company-related social media, and change it when employees leave.

• Periodically monitor employee online activity because trade secrets lose protection when disclosed. If disclosure is inadvertently made, quickly take down the information.

• Consult an attorney to review your social media policy, agreement and practice.

• Periodically update your policy because law and technology are changing so fast.

Yuri Mikulka is chair of the Intellectual Property Department at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach her at (949) 725-4000 or [email protected]

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth


Adrienne Lenhoff: Think before you post

Adrienne Lenhoff

Adrienne Lenhoff, president and CEO, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications

Have you rethought your opinion of someone because of something they’ve posted on social media? Social media has blurred the line between business and personal acquaintances, with most people having both personal and professional contacts linked to their pages on social platforms such as Facebook.

Social media creates an environment where many of our social filtering inhibitions disappear, and people tend to feel freer in expressing views they would not otherwise express in real-life social and business settings.

We witnessed the best and worst of friends, family, business colleagues and acquaintances during the 2012 presidential election. In the offline world, most of us would refrain from lambasting someone for expressing their opinion. Most of us, however, would not begin verbal attacks against the individual or the candidates.

The election was an eye-opener

The presidential election shed light on the impact that the things we post on social networks has on our relationships with others. Forty-seven percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Mashable had unfriended someone on Facebook because of election-related issues.

Even if you did not actually unfriend someone, think about those you might be avoiding as a result of their comments or whose update settings you’ve changed to take them out of your active friend feed. Conversely, are your business colleagues or acquaintances taking these same actions against you?

Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project has conducted several surveys about people’s use of social networking sites for politics and personal political interaction. Here are some of the findings:

  • 60 percent of American adults use either social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, and 66 percent of those social media users, or 39 percent of all American adults, have done at least one social media civic or political engagement activity.
  • 22 percent of registered voters shared their presidential vote on social media.
  • 22 percent say they avoid making political comments on social media sites for fear of offending others.
  • 67 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a distant friend or acquaintance.
  • 21 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a co-worker.
  • 16 percent have friended or followed someone because the person shared the user’s political views.

When it comes to blocking, unfriending or hiding someone on social media, overpolitical postings are often the reason why. The biggest complaints regarded someone posting too frequently about political subjects, posting something a user disagreed with or found offensive, and arguing about politics with the user or someone they know.

The loss of anonymity

For better or worse, the presidential election opened the floodgates of online bashing and heated arguments. In the early days of online interaction, most sites and media outlets allowed users to identify themselves using pseudonyms or user names rather than their true-life identities. That cloak of anonymity allowed many users to dispose of their inhibitions and interact as they would not otherwise in a real-world setting.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a shift from the use of pseudonyms or user handles to sites that now require comments and engagement be tied to social media profiles on Facebook that reveal our real names, along with potentially allowing viewers access to our personal and professional identifying information — including employment information.

When you see someone boldly expressing themselves across social media platforms, it has the repercussion of not only fragmenting relationships but also making you lose respect for ones you have always respected. It puts people in a different light and has the potential to make you rethink who you would want to do business with.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam Public Relations and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at [email protected]  Follow her on Twitter @alenhoff.

Kelly Borth: Why what worked in 2008 is no longer applicable in 2013

 

Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, GreencrestThe change came fast, and it came during an economic downturn when CEOs had their heads down trying to survive. Ultimately, we recognized the change was occurring but did little or nothing to be competitive with it.

As the economy slowly recovers, you need to adapt to the times when marketing your products and services. What worked in 2008 no longer applies in 2013. It’s a new game, and the few businesses doing it right are driving conversation, engagement and loyalty — and winning new business. It is not about abandoning what worked in the past but recognizing that the rules of engagement have changed and developing new strategy.

It is no different than adapting to the marketing challenges and changes that Internet technology brought in the 1990s.

The new social movement is a force to be reckoned with, and in 2013, you need to be ready to tackle this new communication trend. To ignore it will impair survival. It is not too late to get on board, but to do so will take a companywide commitment.

The new marketing paradigm
Sure, businesses are on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and have blogs. But most businesses lack social strategy and an understanding of why they need those things. It’s time to understand how to become a social business, and shift the thinking of leadership and marketing to social conversation instead of the traditional push marketing.

The biggest shift is in pushing away from unwanted messaging filled with sales-centered value propositions to engaging in a way that mimics publishers — creating content that answers questions, adds value toward reaching objectives and encourages referral of your company as a credible reference. We need to feed the intense appetite for information by providing something great to talk about and share.

Creating a foundation
Being a social business takes a village. Engaging the entire organization is a cultural shift, and the directive for this level of change must come from the top. The CEO must lay the foundation for a social culture that encourages transparency and empowerment.

Communication used to be channeled through sales and marketing. Now we need everyone from the CEO to engineers and human resource teams contributing to the social conversation, each creating their personal brands and centers of influence.

The new game is peer-influenced community marketing. The challenge of marketing is to develop a social strategy, identifying social ambassadors within the organization at all levels, orchestrating the creation of great content companywide, educating ambassadors on the importance of their role and monitoring the conversation and results.

Mobility is a factor
According to business2community.com, 2013 will mark the first time online access is greater from mobile devices than desktop or laptop computers. An estimated 90 million consumers in the U.S. will own a tablet by 2014.

Mobility is changing the way we need to market. Communication needs to be mobile-friendly content. Companies need to shift to mobile sites and mobile advertising. Smartphone users expect to be able to do it all from their mobile device. If we cannot provide this experience, they become frustrated and disengaged.

 

It’s time to move forward
A 2012 Forrester survey of executives and IT decision makers indicated 49 percent expected to make investments in social networking solutions in 2012, and of those, 19 percent described their investment as “implemented, not expanding.”

The early adopters are in the game. The rest are asking, “How far behind are we?” That is the question you should be asking yourself.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, [email protected], @brandpro or visit www.greencrest.com.

 

Invest in developing a marketing strategy if you want to improve business results

Dave Fazekas, Director of Digital Marketing, Smart Business Network

How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?

Wrong.

The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.

That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.

All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.

There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.

Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.

A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.

As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.

Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.

Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?

First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.

Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.

Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.

Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.

Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.

Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.

Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at [email protected] or (440) 250-7056.

How to avoid the pitfalls of social media in the workplace

Karen C. Lefton, partner, Brouse McDowell

Social media has pervaded the workplace. With more than 1 billion people on Facebook and 140 million Twitter users generating 340 million tweets a day, companies see the potential of social networking and often rush to get on board without formulating a comprehensive policy.

“Take a step back and consider the implications of posting — whether officially in your business, unofficially by employees, or about your business by disgruntled customers or competitors. Develop a plan for protecting your interests on all those fronts,” says Karen C. Lefton, a partner at Brouse McDowell. “That means drafting, implementing and, where appropriate, disseminating your policy before you are the target of a nasty post.”

Smart Business spoke with Lefton about what companies should consider now with social media.

What can companies do to protect themselves against disparaging statements made by customers or competitors? 

Anyone who posts defamatory statements about your business may be subject to a defamation action. There must be a false statement of fact, published to at least one other person, with the requisite degree of fault — negligence or actual malice — resulting in damages. It is important to recognize that ‘opinion’ is protected. This is especially significant in the social media context, where reviews are pervasive and even encouraged on companies’ websites. When you do this, you invite potentially negative comments, but not ones that would be actionable in defamation.

Does that mean reviews are exempt from defamation lawsuits?

Reviews are usually excluded because opinions are protected speech. A false statement of fact is essential to a successful defamation claim. However, if someone says, ‘There was a cockroach in my oatmeal,’ that is demonstrably a statement of fact. If it is false, the restaurant where the oatmeal was served would have a potential defamation claim.

Whom would you sue? 

The poster. Internet Service Providers generally have immunity for the posts on their sites, but the poster does not. Historically, defamed entities were reluctant to take action against an individual poster because the cost far exceeded the payoff. However, many homeowners’ insurance policies cover individuals for actions in defamation, which may provide some recompense for defamatory posts.

What if the harmful statements are made by your own employees? Can you fire them? 

Be very cautious. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in concerted activity, so employees who post disparaging comments about wages and working conditions — including bad things about the boss or the business — are usually protected. This applies as much to employees in nonunion settings as to those in unionized workplaces.

An employer may be found to have violated the act not only by disciplining a worker for what he posts but for merely having a policy that could be interpreted as chilling an employee’s Section 7 rights. Your policy governing employees’ use of social media must be very carefully drafted.

Are there pitfalls if employees post as part of their job, sanctioned by the company? 

Absolutely. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 68 percent of businesses require employees to use social media as part of their job. Of those, 73 percent give no training in how to use it appropriately.

Every company with a social media presence should have a policy governing its official website and social media accounts, including identifying those employees authorized to speak on behalf of the company and training them to ensure that private information — whether about employees, business plans or anything else — does not leak out. This is a growing problem because communication on social media is so quick and casual that it often does not get the same attention as a printed marketing piece. It should get more, as it will last virtually forever.

How can you avoid social media pitfalls?

Get expert help drafting your policies. Implement them. Follow them.

Karen C. Lefton is a partner at Brouse McDowell. Reach her at (330) 535-5711, ext. 341 or [email protected]

For information on Brouse McDowell’s Labor and Employment Group, visit http://www.brouse.com/OurPracticeAreas/tabid/55/MainAreaId/5/Default.aspx.

For a complete bio of Karen C. Lefton, visit http://www.brouse.com/OurAttorneys/AttorneyProfile/tabid/90/aid/252/Default.aspx.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell