A lawsuit never looks good. Protect your startup’s social media profile from day one.

By Dixie Somers, Freelance Writer

Long before you launched your startup, you made sure to lock down the Twitter handle, Facebook page, Instagram profile and MySpace (just in case.) That was a smart move — 52 percent of all adults who are active online visit two or more social media sites each day, according to the Pew Research Center.

But as you move from stealth mode to getting your business online and active on social media, keep in mind the legal risks. Something you post online now could have huge legal ramifications later, even if you delete the post.

Follow these five rules of thumb to protect your business and avoid legal trouble down the line:

1. Develop Two Separate Policies

The single most important step you can carry out is to create a policy with two sections. The first section should cover your company’s policies when it comes to “official” use of social media accounts. If you do not yet have an internal social media manager or marketing department, this will most likely fall to the owner or some managers.

The second policy should outline the personal use of social media by employees. Every employee should realize they are liable for their words and actions on social media sites and should know exactly what they can and cannot say.

2. Research NLRB Policies

It’s vital that employees do not commit libel, slander or defamation. But some of their statements may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which is overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRA was created to protect an employee’s right to organize with other employees, and this may now extend to social media sites.

Unfortunately, there are sometimes over a dozen social media cases per year involving a breach in the NLRA. This can lead to serious complications for a company and its employees.

3. When in Doubt, Ask for Permission

Even a single case of copyright infringement could cost a company $150,000 or more. If you or your employees are ever in doubt about using an image, video clip, phrase, or link, then it is best to hold off on using it and ask permission first.

After asking the owner’s permission, keep records of this permission in multiple locations. An email is often enough to hold up in court if issues do pop up in the future, but this area of the law is still being interpreted by Congress and could change at any time.

4. Consider Site-Specific Rules

Some basic rules apply to all social media sites, like not slandering your competition. But some sites have specific policies that will need to be considered as well.

Companies like Facebook have been known to permanently ban business accounts that do not adhere to their terms of service. One example of this is running a sweepstakes or giveaway.

Going through a marketing company that is not approved by Facebook or even phrasing your advertisements in a certain manner could get you banned.

5. Register and Control All Accounts

Some of the largest companies in the world have found themselves in lawsuit after lawsuit when it comes to staking out and controlling their own accounts. Private users often attempt to snatch up popular names before big companies do, and this can become an expensive problem to solve.

If you have not already done so, create accounts under your business’s name for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. If another party took your account name, contact that specific social media site and enquire about your options for getting it back.

The rise of social media has resulted in a monumental shift in business marketing practices, and this has some potentially huge legal ramifications. As your company continues to grow, update your social media policies every six to 12 months in order to keep up with changing laws and ToS additions.

Set specific social media policies in place to protect yourself if any issues arise. If you set and update policies frequently, you’re more likely to come out on top if you find yourself in a legal battle due to social media mistakes.

*Thanks to Doré Law Group for sharing their helpful social media legal tips!

Have you got a social media policy in place?

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