Using Social Media Safely

Kelly Moffatt

June 18, 2010

By Elaine Wiltshire, The Lawyers Weekly

Social media is not going away. Once thought of as trend, sites like MySpace, Facebook and now Twitter have seeped into our everyday lives.

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Using a third-party site can be enticing for a company looking to promote a brand, product or initiative, especially based on the sheer volume of users and accessibility of sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Viral marketing really takes advantage of the functionality of social media tools to attract high traffic to a company’s site or social media profile.

“What viral marketing does is harness the strongest consumer triggers – it’s the personal recommendation,” said Kelly Moffatt, a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and conference presenter.

“The goal of the viral marketing campaign is to create a message, send that message out to part of your target market and then make that message so compelling that your target market feels compelled to forward it on ... it really just captures people’s interest so they really do a lot of the marketing for you.”

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But viral marketing really comes with a unique set of legal risks due to its unpredictable nature. The goal of legal counsel is to make sure the necessary steps have been taken to manage and anticipate potential risk associated with these types of campaigns. One specific risk, especially when dealing with third-party sites, is loss of control of the message, said Moffatt.

“The internet makes it so easy for [users] to forward your message, but it also makes it a lot easier for them to tweak [it],” she said. “So really that creates a risk that both your message and the audience to which it’s going to be delivered is going to become inconsistent or get a bit off-track with what the marketers’ original objectives were.”

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Moffatt suggests that sponsors host contests or other types of marketing campaigns on their own website and use social marketing tools to drive traffic to that site, “as opposed to doing it all within the Facebook platform, which obviously leaves you much more susceptible and much more at the mercy of their terms and conditions, policies and decisions.”