It’s all too easy to sit at your laptop and write something in the heat of the moment — a complaining email or even a tweet or Facebook update having a moan about something. But these online moments could land you and your business in court.
Just because you are writing something in the comfort of your office or sat on your sofa in front of the TV doesn’t mean it might not have serious legal implications. It’s all too easy to respond to something in an instant — post a comment here, have a rant on Twitter there — but you should consider whether your actions might be stepping outside the boundaries of the law.
One tiny comment can have far reaching effects in terms of who sees it and what it means for you or your business. Your tweets, status updates and reviews are out there in the public domain, for all the world to see, and unfortunately, some may come back to haunt you. If you think the internet offers a free rein to say whatever you want, you need to think again.
If you have written a comment on a social media site, on your own or a competitor’s website or on a review site such as TripAdvisor or FreeIndex, you could be committing libel. Recently, there have been several high profile libel cases surrounding Twitter, including Sally Bercow’s tweet referencing Lord McAlpine.
The fact that the UK High Court found that her tweet was libelous shows that you don’t even have to explicitly defame someone for it to represent libel. Justice Tugendhat ruled that innuendo was equally damaging, carrying the “same effect” as the natural meaning of words.
Sally Bercow said: “Today’s ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users. Things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation. I have learned my own lesson the hard way.”
It has been reported that online libel cases have doubled in recent years due to the social media explosion, so don’t think that social media is still a grey area in the eyes of the law — it’s really not. Your bite-sized tweets, status updates and comments on social networks (personal and business) are all covered by UK libel and defamation laws.
Even search giant Google has found to its cost that online defamation can take many forms. It has been sued several times because of its auto-complete feature, which whilst a useful tool for most of us, has been found to link people’s names with offensive or misleading terms, resulting in expensive lawsuits.
UK law is very clear on libel: anyone who makes a defamatory comment in published material about an identifiable person (ie someone named, pictured, or otherwise alluded to) that causes loss to business or reputation has committed libel. As the Sally Bercow case shows, a person does not even have to make a direct allegation, as UK libel law equally covers insinuation and implication. All social media users need to be aware of this.
Unlike criminal law where the burden of proof lies with the accuser, with UK libel law a defamatory statement is presumed to be false, unless the defendant can prove it’s the truth.
If you are in any doubt about what you can say online, take a look at this useful article Can I write whatever I want online? but my advice (and I’m not a lawyer I hasten to add) is never tweet or comment online in anger as it may land you (and your business) in a lawsuit!
It’s nothing new and it’s not a revelation, so why are so many smaller organisations still shying away from doing business online?
A good website only has positive effects on your customers and your business. But if you’re still not convinced your business needs to get online, here are a few good reasons to change your mind.
Let’s start strong with some facts and figures:
Without a good website, you could be missing out on thousands or even millions of new customers. The first step in the buying process for many potential customers is to look you up online. Your website is your online shop and your customers are waiting to walk in.
Your online business is open 24/7. So there’s another advantage to a quality online presence; you’ll be attracting customers, creating buzz, providing information and making money ... literally as you sleep. Selling your products and your brand has never been so flexible, as customers can choose where and when they want to buy.
Picture the scenario a “few” years back. Mr Smith walks into his favourite local store, the owner knows Mr Smith very well, knows what he usually buys, what he does for a living and what he thinks of the shop overall. Things haven’t actually changed that much.
With some basic online tricks and tools you can also get to know your customers very well indeed. Through your website and social media pages you can get feedback, find out what people usually buy from you, how they use your website and what they think of your business.
All this helps you tailor your online shop window, improve your services and gain and retain customers.
There are loads more reasons to set up a website. And the best thing? It’s easy to do and it’s not expensive. Use simple web design software and you’ll find out just how easy it is to create a professional website without any training or experience.
Quite simply, a decent website will help improve your business, give your customers greater access to your products, services and location, while helping you build a stronger base, where you can attract more customers every day.
Dale Cook is the technical product manager at Serif.
If you get your website right you will win more business — that’s the reality of promoting and selling pretty much anything today.
That’s all well and good I hear you say, but exactly how do you go about creating the right website — one that really works for your business?
Having worked on over one hundred web projects for service firms in the past few years, here are the top ten things we’ve learned. I hope they give you some ideas if, like us, you are redoing your own site in the coming year.
If you want a successful website, you’ll need put as much time and effort into planning it as your designer spends on building it. Great design has never mattered more but don’t launch straight into it.
By hiring a web designer or developer with a strong digital presence — someone who creates great content for their own business — you can be sure that they understand how to get your site right.
If you want to create a site that really engages prospective clients look at what you do from the outside in. See your business through their eyes by asking your clients for feedback.
Your story is a golden thread that runs through all your content and illuminates what you do. Get this right and the rest of the content will flow. Hiut Denim’s website, the super-strong message from Finisterre and B2B firm Desynit are all great examples.
Good websites are also packed with helpful and inspiring content. In fact, when it comes to the helpful stuff vs. sales information, try following the 80/20 rule of content.
Effective websites equip the visitor with the information they need at every step of the sales process — from browsing and researching to just about to buy. Think through what your buyers need throughout the journey to becoming a loyal client.
It’s neat to be niche when it comes to the web. Whether you focus on one or many niches, the trick is to serve up relevant content that meets the needs of each sector.
Your website is plugged into a much wider lead generation and lead nurturing system. It’s linked to the social web, to your growing email subscriber list, to your contact database, to smart analytics. Marketing automation is becoming more important — it can improve the visitor’s experience, help you power and manage relationships and measure the results.
If you’re creating a new website, make sure its design is responsive, so that it is easily viewable and useable on any device. With the rise of mobile the power of visual content has never been greater so don’t forget to include video content.
A website is a platform to build on, not an end in itself. Be clear on your content strategy, create a publishing plan for the months ahead and keep adding and sharing great content if you want to get found and loved. It takes time to build up that head of steam when it comes to driving leads from the web but hold firm. If you follow these tips and continue to add value, results will come.
As early as 1967, Professor Johan Arndt from the Colombia Graduate School Of Business identified “word of mouth” as “one of the most important, if not the most important source of information for the consumer”. As time marches on, word of mouth has only become more influential.
The plethora of information online has resulted in “official” marketing messages, produced by companies, being seen as less credible and, therefore, less influential than in any previous age. This, together with the decline of trust in institutions, has meant that we increasingly turn to our colleagues, friends and family for information we trust.
Of course, social proof — in other words what others say and do — has always been one of the most influential factors in the decisions we make. However, the web, together with digital technology and the resulting rise of social platforms, means that today we can access more social proof with greater ease than ever before.
Word of mouth has always happened face-to-face and that is still the case. However, there are now two important factors to consider. Firstly, where the catalyst for word of mouth was often broadcast media such as TV, billboards and adverts; today, a growing catalyst for word of mouth is online media. Secondly, conventional word of mouth and online are merging, as more of us post opinions on social platforms, having conversations online rather than face-to-face.
Search is going social and the web has become our primary source of information when searching for products and services. The result is that the most important marketers, for any company today, are its engaged community of customers, prospects, partners and suppliers.
The more public support or advocates a company has, the more likely it is to be commercially successful. Rather than broadcast messages as in yesteryear, marketers today are more like facilitators, creating value, fuelling conversations and encouraging people to become involved with the company. In so doing, it is the participants themselves who become the most effective communicators of an organisation’s message.
This means businesses have to become masters of particular disciplines. Using social listening tools, a company must learn what its customers and prospects talk about and share. In so doing, it becomes more likely that a company will create content that will be well received and shared by the community it wishes to engage.
Data becomes vitally important as companies track their own content that has the biggest impact and is shared most widely. By obtaining an understanding of what content works, a business can then produce better material on an ongoing basis. Using data to understand the people most likely to share, and those with the greatest influence, means a business can invest extra time and resources nurturing these particular individuals.
Businesses should also be encouraging advocacy. That is, supporting and providing platforms where customers can leave reviews. In business to business environments, companies that are engaging face-to-face with customers should be asking if they can use positive feedback as a testimonial on LinkedIn or in a tweet.
Word of mouth has always been vital. In the past, many companies have left it to chance hoping that providing a great experience will lead to positive recommendations. Of course, this still happens. However, on its own, it is no longer enough. Businesses now have to be more strategic about garnering word of mouth.
So, what are you doing to encourage advocacy?
A high-profile speaker walked off the stage mid-presentation at a recent product launch at the CES Technology expo in Las Vegas. It’s ironic that it was caused by the failure of the technologically humble auto-cue. But what can we do when this happens? And— make no mistake — it will.
They say speaking in public ranks alongside spiders and death as one of the things people fear most. I’m one of the few who happen to enjoy it — I quite like spiders too — but that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous and it certainly doesn’t mean everything goes smoothly every time.
The opportunity to stand up and speak publicly always presents challenges. So what can we do to prepare for the unexpected; the auto-cue failing, the heckler at a public event or when you completely lose the thread of what you are saying?
Practise. This means actually doing it, not thinking about what you would do. Jonny Wilkinson doesn’t talk about what he’s going to do. He puts the ball down, steps back and kicks it, again and again and again.
Learn your opening few lines by heart. If you can walk onto the stage knowing word for word what you’re going to say in your first 30 seconds, you will get into your flow more quickly.
Look for things that might trip you up and address them. The auto-cue not working is an obvious one. So practise without it. When I did my IBM training they used to take the bulb out of the over-head projector (remember them?). It taught you to carry a spare bulb and also to practise without your visuals.
Prepare for questions and comments. In public events, hecklers, or questions from the floor are more likely than in an internal meeting. Decide how you are going to handle them.
Have a plan if you draw a blank. We’ve all had moments when our mind has gone totally blank and we can’t think what comes next. Almost always, it will come back to us. We just need to find a way back to safety. Here’s what I do:
What can we learn from what is going on around us?
Businesses that have recently suffered the ultimate indignity by keeping their heads well and truly planted in the sand include PC World, Blockbuster, Woolworth and Millets.
It is getting tougher out there for most businesses. Customers are smarter, better informed and less loyal than they had been. They no longer need to, and in fact they don’t, believe you.
Do not join the queue heading for oblivion by competing on price. As Michael Porter says, “Competing on price is a mug’s game unless you can afford go cheaper than the competition.”
Sticking to the old model is what has driven so many businesses into the ground. When 54% of people have more online interaction than offline interaction, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Robert Craven is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. Robert shows directors and owners how to grow their profits. As well as running the Directors’ Centre, he is a keynote speaker and the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm.