If you’re an influencer that is currently making money on your influence or is planning to do so in the near future, then there are some social media legal issues you need to know about stat. Like any business, blogging and influencer marketing come with their own set of potential legal problems you need to be aware of so you can:
- Avoid them like the plague; and
- Not be blindsided in the future.
Influencers who use social media to connect, advertise and share information with their followers and fans need to understand the legal aspects involved in doing so. One of the tricks of running a successful business is thinking 10 steps ahead. The last thing you want to do is work hard to build your online brand, start earning money, work with amazing companies and brands, have a loyal follower base just to risk it all because of a legal issue you could have prevented.
Ignorance Is NOT Bliss When It Comes To Social Media Legal Issues.
Many people make the mistake of ignoring the legal aspects of a business because let’s face it – they are less than glamorous. While learning about the legal aspects of social media may not be as exciting as collaborating with brands and traveling the world, it’s equally if not more important.
Why? Because if you run into social media legal problems along the way, they could jeopardize everything you’ve worked so hard to create.
Since we’re getting deep into things in this article we have to go over a couple quick housekeeping items:
- While all social media legal issues may be created equally, this article relates to US legal issues only. Just FYI – if you’re an influencer that is not based in the United States but works with US companies then these laws on social media may impact you too. #justsaying
- Nothing in this article is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. Since every situation is different and fact specific, you should always consult with an attorney if you have any questions about the law, how to legally protect your business or if you face any legal issues.
Ok now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go over legal issues in social media to keep on your radar.
What You Need To Know About Social Media And The Law.
Social media and legal issues don’t typically end up in the same sentence but just because you haven’t run into any problems so far doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Here are some important questions you need to know the answer to:
ISSUE 1: Can you use your social media handle and/or blog name to sell a product or service, or does someone else have the legal rights to it?
Just because your super amazing social handle was available when you were setting up your Instagram account doesn’t mean you’re good to go…
If you haven’t done your homework (i.e. run a trademark search and do some serious Nancy Drew style sleuthing), you could be infringing on someone’s trademark and exposing yourself to a serious legal problem and you don’t even know it!
So what’s a trademark anyway?
A trademark is a name, logo, phrase, symbol, and/or mark that identifies where a product, service or business comes from and distinguishes them from other companies.
Think Coca Cola versus Pepsi – you have a preference right? What if they were both called Coca Cola – how would you tell the difference when you went to buy one that tastes like Pepsi at the store? It would be impossible…
That’s why trademarks are so important in business because they make sure consumers don’t get confused by different companies selling the same or similar products. Basically, when you buy a product or service, you know what you’re getting.
So what happens when you’re infringing on someone’s trademark? The trademark owner can take legal action against you, ignore what you’re doing, or if they are insanely kind, agree to coexist with you in the marketplace.
Regardless of the fact that you may be infringing on someone else’s trademark, it’s never a good idea to build a brand with a name you cannot legally protect.
Imagine growing your following, creating a logo, building a blog, creating amazing content, developing products and everyone is starting to know you by name…
…only to find out you have to change your brand name and even worse, start your brand from scratch.
We know – your worst nightmare.
We definitely recommend consulting with a lawyer before spending time and money to build your online brand. If you’re already travel blogging and influencing away and want to turn your influence into a full-time gig, product line, service hub etc. then you better make sure you have the right to do so ASAP.
Your brand name (i.e. trademark) is one of your most valuable intangible assets so you need to make sure you can protect the sh*t out of it. It would be a shame to invest tons of time and money into building your brand, following and influence just to have it taken away from you.
Curious to learn more about Trademarks? Click here for some Trademark basics courtesy of the USPTO.
ISSUE #2: Are you properly disclosing partnerships, sponsorships and collaborations on social media?
If you use your social influence to promote brands, products, services and even travel destinations for money or trade then there are certain rules the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that you follow. These are set in place to protect your followers and fans so they know how much weight to put behind your recommendation and/or endorsement.
Basically are you recommending a new amazing suitcase brand because you actually love it, or you were paid to say it? Of course, you could really like the suitcase brand and just happen to get paid to say it but nonetheless, you have to disclose.