Website terms and conditions: More important than you might think

October 28, 2010

file folder and mouseLarisa Tehven

In my October 13th post, I outlined some of the best practices that can help businesses protect themselves from liability for issues arising out of social media use.
This week, we’ll look at one of the most critical components of any risk management strategy: Implementing and enforcing a social media policy, starting with the terms and conditions of use.

Terms & Conditions

Companies that host their own social media platforms should have terms and conditions in place that are readily available to all potential users of the site.  The specific policies may vary from business to business, but should include provisions that address these key concepts:

  • A prohibition of unlawful use of the site
  • A specific disclaimer of responsibility for unlawful content published on the site by third party users
  • General alignment with all company policies, especially the company privacy policy
  • The protection of proprietary information and intellectual property
  • The prohibition of the violation of third-party rights in this area
  • A prohibition of defamatory, libelous, harassing, offensive, profane, or indecent material
  • Avoidance of inflammatory or confrontational content, especially in the competitive context
  • Requirement of supervisor approval of the use of vendor, employee, or customer information

Courts and regulators will take into consideration the implementation, availability, and patterns of enforcement of terms and conditions like these in determining company liability for unlawful use of social media by both employees and third-party users.

More social media best practices

Finally, a few stylistic considerations:

  • About – Much like an “about” section on a corporate website, you should include a provision that outlines the purpose and tone of the blog or platform. Let the readers know what’s in it for them.
  • Authenticity – Including bio information about the contributors and managers of your social media platforms helps readers to identify with and trust the authenticity of the perspectives that are shared.
  • Ethics and good judgment – Put forth some indication of behavior you will and will not support. A good example is GM’s Blogger Policy for its FastLane Blog.

More sample policies can be found on the Social Media Governance website.

Larisa Tehven is a licensed attorney and senior marketer for Westlaw.