More and more businesses today are discovering the benefits of blogging. Blogs can help position businesses and professionals as industry leaders, build relationships with clients and customers, provide a major boost to search engine rankings and attract new, quality traffic to websites.
In many ways, blogging has turned average people into citizen journalists, disbursing story-telling channels beyond traditional media and delivering them directly into the hands of the masses. Therein lies the risk. Many companies today — and the writers who blog for them —blog without understanding the laws that apply to the relatively new medium.
That becomes an even bigger problem when you consider the medium itself. Social media, by nature, tends to be more open with information and more candid with opinions. Blogs are no exception. Consequently, and not surprisingly, the number of blog related lawsuits has increased dramatically since the first one was filed in 2005.
If you currently blog for business or are planning to start, these tips can help:
* Represent the business. Understand, when you send information to the blogosphere, you are essentially sharing it with the world, now and well into the future. Do not say anything on your blog that isn’t true, you can’t prove or doesn’t represent your business well.
* Protect privacy. Do not disclose names, key information or photos of employees or customers without their advance, written consent. If you have an event where you would like to take photos or video to post later, be sure to get participants’ permission first.
* Observe intellectual property laws, especially those surrounding copyright and trademarks. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, this is the No. 1 reason bloggers get into trouble. If you want to post a photo taken by someone else or a written work authored by someone else (in part or in full), you need to have permission from the copyright owner or give it proper reference. Copyright violations can spur criminal and civil charges.
* Don’t defame others. It may be tempting to speak ill of competitors or others who may be wishing (or inflicting) ill will on your business, but bashing them online likely will serve only to make matters worse. It could also subject you to defamation charges.
* Add a disclaimer. Disclaimers should note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and include notes about validity and accuracy. (After all, a process or number you share today may change over time.) Additionally, federal law protects bloggers from comments posted on their site by third parties; it wouldn’t hurt to remind users of this fact in the disclaimer.
* Establish a social media policy for your business. While the policy should encompass all forms of social media, it should have a section specifically for blogging. There, you can spell out who can blog on behalf of the business, guidelines for handling online blog responses, and rules pertaining to content (including privacy, copyright, defamation, etc.).
If you are blogging about something that causes you to wonder if it will create problems, that’s a good sign that you probably shouldn’t post it. Also, if you think you may have a legal issue stemming from your blog (or someone else’s), don’t let it fester. Talk with a lawyer experienced in this area of law to explore solutions.
Above all, remember the Web is a viral, vital and powerful tool. It carries great potential for marketing your business, but it also comes with some risk. Just as with other aspects of your business, success will depend not only on how well you seize the opportunity but also on how well you manage the risks that come with it.
About the Author:
Jennifer M. Schank is an attorney with Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, a full-service law firm based in La Crosse, Wis. According to the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, has more top-rated lawyers than any other La Crosse law firm.