by Deborah Sweeney | Featured Contributor
Companies offering goods for sale have wisely embraced social media to get their products out to as many people as they can. Oftentimes, these companies employ creative marketing campaigns that draw people to their products. These marketing campaigns can help your business grow exponentially with some smart and flashy presentation. However, the words you use within your advertisements could be opening your company up to a much greater risk than you first anticipated.
It’s common for companies to want to show how much they believe in their product. If the product or company is new, they advertise in a way that shows the company will stand by its goods. Other companies use advertisements that talk about the benefits of their products in a clear cut way. Though this has been a common practice in marketing for years, certain expressions can constitute an express warranty of a product. When this occurs, a company may be held liable if their product breaks the promise the company made while advertising. These types of accidental express warranties can happen with thought out and long planned marketing campaigns. This means with the quick and fluid nature of social media, every advertising post or tweet can get you into hot water. However, there are some easy steps you can take that will keep your costumers engaged without you opening up yourself to unwanted problems.
Make Sure you are Puffing
“Merely puffing” is a term of art that is derived from an English court case from 1893. However, courts in the United States still use it to describe marketing speak for advertising. Basically, the courts use the term when they find that a company used claims in their advertising that was meant to sell the product by boasting or exaggerating the claims. These types of claims are ones that an average reasonable person will understand as statements being used to sell a product. These types of claims will never be held to be an express warranty. Most companies utilizing social media rely heavily on puffing as it is a great way to entice customers and advocate for your brand.
Statements like “this is the only non-slip mat your friends will ever want” helps convey the greatness of the product without saying anything too specific. A consumer will not be able to point to an express statement giving them a guarantee unlike “this non-slip mat makes it impossible to fall.” There are plenty of ways that a product can be advertised without ever mentioning the specifics of quality or characteristics of the product. When using social media, you do not have to hold back on how awesome your product is so feel free to tweet or post about how amazing it really is. Just remember, when using social media portals, using statements that are vague or highly subjective will keep you in the clear.
Try Not to Promise What you Can’t Deliver
Direct promises and guarantees can be tricky business online. Stating claims about your product on the web can open the flood gates to some major issues if you aren’t careful. However, there is no reason you cannot mention the amazing things your product can do. When talking about your product, the most important thing to keep in mind is to claim only what the product is actually capable of doing. Imagine you were looking for a can of chicken broth to make some soup and you needed one without any bones. You come across a can that states it is boneless so you purchase it. However, when you go to use it, there are tons of bones in it. The fact that your purchase relied on the false promise of boneless broth the producer of the product will be held liable, even if all of their other cans had no bones. For the same reason, it is important to promise only what your product can deliver. Stating claims that sound good but are hard to guarantee is a risky move, especially online where information travels fast. This risky behavior could not only make your product look bad, but people may have legal claims against your company. That’s why it is so important to stand by your product in the best way you can, rather than stretch the truth to catch a couple of extra dollars. The small bump up in money won’t make the huge headache worth it.
Write out Your Rules
Another popular social media campaign aspect is setting up giveaways and guarantee campaigns. These campaigns can vary from “the first hundred people who retweet a post will win a free product” to saying “this product will keep you from getting a cold for two weeks or we will give you a hundred dollars.” When setting up an advertising campaign that involves an event, sweepstakes or challenge, it is important that you lay out your ground rules. The reason for this is to set up a situation where you control the outcome of your marketing goal. An online place, such as your website, where any participant can find the guidelines is all you really need. Just make sure you outline the requirements and the steps for how participants can receive their refund or prize. You want to make sure to have the information readily available for anyone who wants to participate and create clean steps that people must take to win the prize. You can place limitations on who wins, like one grand prize winner, or limit things like all the paperwork that must be filed with the company to show the participant has completed the entire process to be eligible. By stating these rules, you can create a campaign that provides great social media marketing while also protecting your assets.
By making sure your marketing team and you follow these simple rules, you can avoid unpleasant issues that may arise, which can lead to a bad reputation for your company. Just remember, you can stand by your product and see the growth of your brand as long as you use social media wisely.
Deborah Sweeney – Legal Expert, CEO, MyCorporation.com – Calabasas, CA
As CEO of MyCorporation Business Services, Inc. (MyCorporation.com), Deborah Sweeney is an advocate for protecting personal and business assets for business owners and entrepreneurs. With her experience in the fields of corporate and intellectual property law, Deborah has evolved from lawyer to business owner. She has extensive experience in the start-up and entrepreneurial industry as she has been involved in the formation of hundreds of thousands of businesses for MyCorporation.com’s customers.
Ms. Sweeney received her JD & MBA degrees from Pepperdine University. She is active in the community and loves working with students and aspiring entrepreneurs. She serves on the Board of Regents at California Lutheran University and is a founding member of Partners of Pepperdine. Deborah has served as an adjunct professor at the University of West Los Angeles and San Fernando School of Law in the areas of corporate and intellectual property law. Ms. Sweeney is also well-recognized for her written work online as a contributing writer with top business and entrepreneurial blogging sites. She is a regular contributor on Forbes, American Express, Social Media Today, and BlogHer among many others.
In her ‘free’ time, Deborah enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, Benjamin (8) and Christopher (6). Deborah believes in the importance of family and credits the entrepreneurial business model for giving her the flexibility to enjoy both a career and motherhood. Follow her on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.