Social media content can be a wonderful way to build relationships, but like in any form of communication, some things are better left unsaid. The wrong message can cost money, lose business for you, or even have legal implications. Avoid the following type of content in your social media channels.

One of the most often violated rules of social media is posting content that you have no right to in the first place.

You may feel like it is OK because “everyone is doing it.” However, very real legal and financial consequences of posting content without copyright exist. You may face fines, a lawsuit, or an angry customer or client. 

How do you know whether you have the right to the content? Just take a little bit of time to find out. (Doing so is not as hard as it seems.) 

  • Is the content something that you uniquely created? For example, a photo that you took or a graphic that you created using a tool like Canva or others
  • If the content is a picture of a person (such as a client, customer, or anyone, really) do you have a photo release signed? 
  • When looking through stock photos, did you get it from a royalty-free site that gives you clear permission to use it? (Or did you purchase it for business use?)

[Tweet “One of the best ways to make sure that you own content – be the original creator!”]

social media content

Sometimes, the best content for your needs is something that someone else has produced. In that case, make sure that you ask the originator’s written permission to use the content. Often, the creator will let you use the content if you give credit or link back. 

Also, be careful of sharing content from other people if it is not clear that they produced the content. If someone else posts content but does not have a right to it and you repost that content, you can be liable as well. 

The good news: In taking the time to produce original content, and to ask for permission when needed, you will have a better chance of engaging with your ideal audience. And you might also make some valuable new business connections. 

One last note on original content: Remember that copyright extends not only to images and videos but also to text. Take the time to write original text.  (And if you quote someone, give credit to the person!)

Trade Secrets

One of the best ways to foster relationships online is to be open, honest, and authentic. But sometimes you can go too far in sharing details. How far is too far is largely dependent on the type of business you create social media content for. 

If you are not a sole proprietor, you definitely need to get input about what these types of things should be. In some cases, a business may want to not share suppliers, secret ingredients or recipes, or other information that competitors could use against them. Having a clear social media policy signed off by company decision-makers is crucial.

Always make sure you understand the boundaries of these different items. See whether there are related things that you can share. For example, you might not want to share a whole cookie recipe—but could share some photos of the raw dough or arrange cookie cutters in an engaging pattern around a baked cookie. 

Remember: The importance of privacy needs to be balanced with sharing information about the company, the founders, and business processes that highlight the reasons people want to do business with you in the first place.

[Tweet “When creating social media content, it is essential to be authentic without over-sharing.”]

Potentially Offensive Jokes

Everyone does not have the same sense of humor. What can be innocent fun to one person can be highly hurtful or offensive to someone else. Companies most often deal with social media disasters when they try to make a joke that doesn’t go over well. 

Know your audience. Have a deep understanding of your audience’s values, goals, and problems. 

[Tweet “A joke to one person can be a social media disaster waiting to happen – use good judgment”]

Second, take the time to think through what serves as the punchline. If the punchline is a person or a group of people, you probably should not post it. Put yourselves in the shoes of the person on the receiving end … How would this punchline feel to you? 

Does this mean that you have to have a dry and boring social media presence? Definitely not! Social media should be fun. You can be considerate and yet still create entertaining social media content, including memes, quotes, funny stories, self-deprecating humor, and more. 

If you have a question about what is (and is not appropriate), refer back to your social media guidelines. 

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Anything You Wouldn’t Want Your Best Customer to See

What kind of relationship do you want to have with your best customers or clients? Do you want them to see you as rude and unhelpful, or kind and gracious? Do you want them to see you working hard to be the best at what you do, or being sloppy with your work? 

What is posted on social media can live on and go anywhere … even when you think it is in a private forum. Screenshots can be taken and shared. Sometimes, what you post can make it to an unintended audience. The best solution for that is to treat every interaction online as if it is with your favorite client. 

Even when other customers are being difficult, respond professionally and with courtesy. And when you are creating content, put your best foot forward. When you do make mistakes (which will happen eventually no matter how careful you are), own up to it! 

This post from NPR in 2017 is a perfect example. It posted about a toddler on its business page accidentally then posted the retraction. Both posts ended up getting a significant amount of engagement, which goes to show you that being graceful even when you goof goes a long way. 

mistakes in social media content

You also will want to consider what kind of liability a post might open you up to when you create social media content. If your lawyer, insurance agent, or law enforcement shouldn’t see the content, don’t post it!

Special Cases: Regulated Industries

The last thing you should never post on social media is something that is not allowed for your specific industry. If you are an agency doing social media for other companies, know what rules apply.

Some of the types of industries included are …

  • Law firms and lawyers
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Real estate agents and brokers
  • Financial firms (including financial planners, stock traders, banks, and loan originators among others)
  • Medical and insurance companies
  • Food companies

This should not be considered an exhaustive list! If you are new to an industry or field, take some time to do research before you start.

Rules can be counterintuitive to the normal recommendations for social media content. For example, financial planners are not allowed to post testimonials as content. Food companies are not allowed to use the term “healthy” to describe their product unless it meets a specific FDA guideline. Lawyers and medical professionals are not allowed to create posts that could be taken as specific legal or medical advice.

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Never, Ever Post These Things on Social Media