Legal and less legal tips for harvesting opportunities

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Legal and less legal tips for harvesting opportunities and minimising harm with John Wilks and Siân Croxon. Proudly sponsored by DLA Piper.

There is undoubtedly an increased awareness of the potential beneficial uses of social media sites for business – from Tweeting daily restaurant offers through to bedroom reservations on Facebook, the possibilities are seemingly endless. But what are the associated risks involved and how can hospitality companies protect themselves from peril?

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At the DLA Piper offices at London Wall, John Wilks (Associate in the Intellectual Property Team – IPT) and Siân Croxon (specialist in Intellectual Property) gave a legal briefing on the benefits and potential pitfalls of using social media sites in business and the ramifications that an online campaign can have, good or bad, for a company.

Benefits

  • Direct
  • Free or low-cost communication
  • Potentially massive audience
  • Interactive
  • Trusted in a way advertising is not
Potential for Harm

  • (Unfair) criticism
  • Misuse of your brand and content
  • Liability for your own content
  • Liability for user generated content
  • Loss of credibility

The perils of kicking the hornet’s nest

In May of this year the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was increased to include advertising campaigns launched online, and they have already acted on a number of complaints made against various hospitality businesses. These have included hotel chains with misleading information about the star rating of a venue; the availability of leisure facilities such as swimming pools onsite and even the cost of booking a bedroom (one particular chain was caught out for including VAT in the listed cost for regional hotels but quoting prices for London hotels as “subject to VAT”)

“The ASA are on watch and they will challenge anybody who are actively promoting their company inappropriately”

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While a company should be vigilant in ensuring no employee uploads incorrect or misleading information about a business, it is in fact information provided by people or entities with no actual link to the business in question that have proved most troublesome. Comments from disgruntled former employees; competitors; illegal activity by people operating dummy sites etc can do severe damage to a company’s image if not acted upon quickly and decisively. But this too can lead to further trouble as “over reacting” or “not seeing the funny side” can be just as damaging for a board.

When assessing the potential damage, there are some basic considerations to take into account before reacting.

  • The nature of the platform: Social Media being generally non-commercial
  • The nature / extent of harm?
  • What is the legal position of the company?
  • Is there potential for (more) bad PR?
  • Is there potential to turn the situation into a positive?

“The impact of a negative online campaign can be bad, but over reacting to the situation can sometimes only serve to draw more attention to the problem but you still need to be ready to act if the situation gets worse … There can be an element of ‘dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t”

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It is important for a business to respond to a problem in an even and considered manner, which is why having a social media and internet policy is so important.

The key legal issues to consider are

  • Has defamation taken place?
  • Have the company trade marks been incorrectly used?
  • Has any copyright been affected?
  • Have advertising regulations been broken?
  • Does Data Protection apply?

Recent cases of the misuse of a company’s trademark or logo have proven that consumer confidence can be fickle and easily swayed by misinformation. Therefore it needs to be constantly nurtured and protected, which is where the importance and significance of having a well structured social media strategy comes into play.

A company’s online profile is a significant marketing tool and, used correctly, can be a great asset to a business.

“Advertising is the main purpose of the use of the internet by business in any sector”

Trip Advisor is an example of a website which amended its online content due to the “misleading” title of one of its pages. The message board on which consumers post comments and appraisals of hotels/venues has been changed from “Reviews you can trust” to “Reviews from our community”

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Practical Do’s and Don’ts for business

  • DO: Develop a SM policy: http://socialmediagovernance.com
  • DON’T: Overreact to comments or postings on social media sites
  • DO: Monitor website content and internet postings regularly
  • DO: Register your business name on SM sites such as Facebook and Twitter
  • DON’T: Store information about a client or contact without advising them
  • DO: Treat the log-in details for websites as a valuable company asset

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