Social Media Compliance: A How-to Guide [w/ Checklist!]
There are roughly 8 billion people in the world today — and 4.76 billion of them use social media. There can be little doubt that social media has become part of the fabric of our lives, serving as the primary platform through which people connect and share information. Social media has become so integral that even businesses and other organizations have gotten in on the game, using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn to engage with consumers, promote their products and services and build loyal followings.
As businesses continue to explore ways to utilize social media, regulatory authorities across all industries are starting to develop rules and requirements to protect consumer interests. In this climate, any organization with an online presence should take care to maintain social media compliance — starting by reading this article.
The Implications of Using Social Media
From its ability to increase brand awareness and encourage consumer engagement to generating leads and boosting sales volumes, there’s little doubt that there’s significant upside to businesses and other organizations using social media.
However, those rewards do not come without risk — in order to protect their business, media-savvy brands should also be aware of:
- Data Protection: Many organizations collect data from their customers through social media channels. Depending on where your organization is based and the industry in which you operate, you may have a legal obligation to ensure both the privacy and security of that information. Failure to meet that obligation can have both legal and financial ramifications, as well as damage the reputation of your organization and lead to loss of consumer trust.
- Intellectual Property Infringement: Although posting an image you found online to your social media feed or resharing content from another social media user’s account on your company’s website may seem innocuous, it can have serious repercussions. Posting another creator’s content without their express permission — even if you’ve fully credited them — constitutes copyright infringement, which can again lead to legal and financial ramifications.
- (False) Marketing Claims: Platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have become a hub for marketing and advertising, enabling organizations to grow their audiences and attract new customers. But beware of false advertising: Making unsubstantiated claims about your products or company can not only lead to customers perceiving you as untrustworthy, but also fines and, in some countries, jail time.
- Defamation: Although businesses are (unfortunately) far more likely to be the victims of social media defamation than the perpetrators, it’s still in their best interest to be mindful of what they say on social media. Posting anything pertaining to an individual or or competing organization could risk a defamation lawsuit.
- Workplace Harassment: In the United States, employers are legally obligated to create a workplace environment free from discrimination and harassment — and that extends to the social media sphere, especially in professions that require employees to be online and public-facing. To protect both their employees and their business, companies need to devise a game plan for addressing online harassment.
- Regulatory Compliance: From the General Data Protection Regulation to the Freedom of Information Act, organizations are subject to legislation and regulations around social media use that impact their compliance strategy.
What Is Social Media Compliance?
Social media compliance refers to the collective processes, policies and procedures organizations implement to ensure adherence to both internal company social media rules and legal and regulatory requirements. These requirements can greatly vary depending on the size of the organization, who it serves and the industry in which it operates, so it’s imperative that companies and agencies be aware of which rules they’re subject to and that they create — and routinely update — social media compliance strategies.
Social Media Compliance: An Industry-by-Industry Breakdown
There are a wide variety of both general and industry-specific laws and regulations that include language pertaining to social media — this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does offer some helpful perspective:
- California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): The CCPA gives California residents the right to know what personal information — that is, any information that “identifies, relates to, or could reasonably be linked with you or your household” — businesses collect about them and how that information is used and shared. CCPA grants individuals the right to delete personal information collected about them and the right to opt out of the sale or sharing of their personal information.
Given the degree to which businesses rely on social media to collect data about their customers, this is an incredibly important law to keep in mind when creating a social media compliance strategy.
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): FERPA is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of student education records, specifically for educational institutions and agencies that are funded by the Department of Education.
Many educators try to incorporate social media into their lesson plans in order to make learning more exciting and relatable for their digitally native students. But when using social media in the classroom, educators should take care not to share certain information online, such as students’ grades, course schedules or class lists, as this could constitute a FERPA violation.
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA): FINRA maintains specific rules for financial institutions pertaining to communications with the public, including social media interactions. More specifically, FINRA:
- Requires financial firms to supervise all business-related social media communications
- Requires firms to conduct a principle review of content prior to posting to social media
- Prohibits institutions from making false, misleading or exaggerated statements to consumers
- Prohibits firms from omitting any material information from public communications
- Requires institutions to provide a balanced view of risks and potential benefits
- Requires institutions to retain social media records for a period of at least three years
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): FOIA requires federal government agencies to completely or partially disclose records to members of the public upon request, typically within a predetermined window of time. Any social media post made by a federal agency constitutes a government record and therefore must be retained and could be subject to an FOIA request.
- The FTC enforces a fairly extensive list of rules on organizations that use social media, including:
- Online Advertising and Marketing: Under the Federal Trade Commission Act, any business that uses social media for advertising and marketing purposes is prohibited from engaging in deceptive advertising and misleading consumers, must substantiate all claims about its productions or company and must clearly display disclaimers and disclosures.
- Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA): The CRFA protects consumers’ “protects people’s ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct, in any forum, including social media.” Under CRFA, organizations are prohibited from threatening or penalizing consumers for sharing their opinion and from including language in their terms of service that prohibits negative consumer reviews.
- Influence Disclosures: For brands that partner with influencers, all endorsements must be clearly disclosed by the influencer. Additionally, influencers are not permitted to promote products they haven’t actually used, to offer positive reviews for a product after a negative experience or to make unsubstantiated claims about a product’s performance or capabilities.
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): GDPR is a regulation created by the European Union (EU) to protect the personal and private data of citizens in the EU and the European Economic Area and to establish a standard for data security laws across Europe.
Under GDPR, in order to run remarketing ads on social media to consumers based in the EU, companies must first get those consumers’ express permission using a sign-up or opt-in module directly on the ad itself. Visitors coming to a company’s site through social media must opt in a second time before arriving at their destination.
Finally, in the interest of consumer privacy, GDPR requires any organization that stores consumer data collected through social media to keep that information “in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary.”
- Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA): The GLBA, which aims to protect consumers’ financial privacy, requires financial institutions that use social media to clearly disclose their privacy policies and to implement strong data security for any consumer information collected through social media.
- Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): Under HIPAA, healthcare providers — and their business associates — are prohibited from sharing patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI) with unauthorized individuals. Naturally, this extends to social media: Under no circumstances should the PHI of current or prospective patients be shared on social platforms.
How Businesses Can Benefit from Social Media Compliance
Aside from the obvious benefit of maintaining regulatory compliance, by going the extra mile to ensure social media compliance, organizations can:
- Avoid Citations and Fines: Agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have levied fines — in some cases, to the tune of millions of dollars — against companies that have violated legal and regulatory requirements. A strong social media compliance strategy can protect your organization’s budget and bottom line.
Your social media compliance strategy should also account for how you intend to secure that data, so consumers can rest easy knowing their personal information isn’t at risk. Both of these measures can ultimately increase consumer confidence and trust in your organization.
- Improve Brand Reputation: With increased consumer confidence and trust comes longer-term loyalty, better word-of-mouth marketing and a stronger reputation within your industry.
9 Steps Organizations Can Take to Ensure Social Media Compliance
Staying compliant with social media regulations doesn’t have to be hard — use this social media compliance checklist as a quick reference when developing your own strategy:
- Familiarize yourself with both general legislation and industry-specific regulations. This one’s pretty straightforward, but doing your research before you put pen to paper will help you plan for all contingencies and create a truly comprehensive social media compliance strategy.
- Monitor account activity. Keep a close eye on what your employees share on social media and how they interact with your audience to flag and address non-compliant activity as soon as it happens. In addition to employee activity, you can also use social media monitoring software to track trending topics, assess social sentiment, receive breaking news alerts and monitor competitors.
- Define and disseminate social media usage policies. Clarify your expectations for the use of company accounts and provide specific examples of what appropriate, compliant behavior looks like so that there’s no room for confusion amongst your employees.When creating social media policies, take into account any relevant regulations, as well your brand’s desired voice and tone — although the latter doesn’t necessarily support social media compliance, it will ensure that any posts made from your company’s accounts maintain a consistent brand identity.
- Create a pre-approved content library. Make it easy for your employees to stay compliant by creating a content library full of pre-approved templates across all of the platforms your company is active on. Not only can a content library support your company’s social media compliance initiative, it can also save you valuable time otherwise spent coming up with captions and comments.
- Create a paper trail by archiving everything. Maintaining a record of all social media posts satisfies the retention requirements of most laws and regulations, while creating a paper trail of all social media activity makes it easier to identify risk and inappropriate behavior and hold the responsible party (or parties) accountable.Social media archiving is also essential for eDiscovery purposes — having a searchable archive makes it much easier to produce content in a timely manner to satisfy eDiscovery requests.
- Invest in a social media management tool. Social media management tools enable you to schedule out pre-approved posts weeks in advance, both enhancing workplace efficiency and supporting social media compliance.
- Invest in a social media archiving platform. Social media archiving solutions are designed specifically to capture and store all social media content — including text posts, direct messages, images and videos — within a centralized, secure repository. With the right solution in place, you can create a detailed record of all social media interactions for compliance, eDiscovery and business analysis purposes.
Want a downloadable version of this social media compliance checklist to keep for future reference? Just follow the link below to get your copy:
Azam is the president, chief technology officer and co-founder of Intradyn. He oversees global sales and marketing, new business development and is responsible for leading all aspects of the company’s product vision and technology department.