If the phrase “social media compliance” gives you chills, we don’t blame you. Compliance can be tricky in any role. In marketing, where so much of our work is public and scrutinized, it’s extra thorny.
In this guide, we’ll break down what risk and compliance mean on social media. We’ll also share examples and tools to help social media marketers stay compliant.
Bonus: Get a free, customizable social media policy template to quickly and easily create guidelines for your company and employees.
What is social media compliance?
Compliance means following the rules. But in practice, ensuring social media compliance is hardly ever simple.
Social media compliance means following regulatory and legal guidelines on social networks. These include data privacy, advertising, content moderation, intellectual property rights, and disclosure requirements.
By following compliance guidelines, businesses can avoid risking legal issues and reputation damage.
Common social media compliance risks
There are many common compliance risks and regulations to help mitigate them. They can vary by industry or location but generally fall into the following categories.
Data privacy and protection
Social media platforms collect a lot of personal data from users. Businesses can and do use this info for marketing and advertising.
But businesses must also work within data privacy laws. That includes obtaining appropriate consent and protecting the data from unauthorized access.
Here are some crucial data protection regulations grouped by region:
Marketers must follow ad regulations when using social media to promote their business. This includes disclosing sponsored content and ensuring that advertisements are truthful. If you fail to do this, you risk facing fines or lawsuits.
In the US, organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulate social media posts. The FDA monitors claims related to food, beverage, and supplement products. The FTC scrutinizes endorsements and testimonials, primarily from social media influencers.
In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) monitors social media ads. Their rules are fairly straightforward. According to the ASA, “it must be obvious to consumers before … they interact with a social media post if what they are engaging with is advertising.” Since 2021, the ASA has publicly listed influencers who have failed to disclose paid posts.
All social media platforms have community guidelines. In creating an account, every business agrees to these guidelines. That means marketers must follow these rules when posting content on social media.
The risks can be serious if you violate a platform’s content guidelines. The platform may remove your post and even ban your account.
Sweetleaf Collective, a cannabis brand, experienced this firsthand. Meta shut down their account for promoting the sale of cannabis products.
Intellectual property rights
Marketers must be careful to respect intellectual property rights when posting content online.
Copyrighted material can be any other content created by someone else. This includes images, video clips, music, quotes and more. Don’t risk using this content without permission. If you do, it can open your business to legal battles.
If you want to avoid the risk, check the ownership of a meme’s materials. To be safe, you should buy the rights to that photo before posting. If the image in a meme is available under an open Creative Commons license, it’s a little easier.
All employees should know their responsibilities and relevant laws and regulations. This is especially important for regulations around confidentiality, data privacy, and advertising.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) governs all healthcare employees. Generally, HIPAA restricts any posting of personal health information of patients. A HIPAA violation can be as simple as resharing a social post without signed consent.
Employee conduct (or misconduct) on social media can come with big financial penalties. Just ask MassMutual, a life insurance and financial services company. The company had to pay a $4 million fine failing to flag an employee who initiated the GameStop stock frenzy. They were also ordered to revise their social media policies.
The best way to avoid employee conduct risks is to have an employee social media policy (more on this below).
How to stay compliant on social media
Know the regulations for your industry
The first step to staying compliant on social media? Learn the rules and regulations specific to your industry.
If you work in a regulated industry, your company has in-house compliance experts. They should be your first stop for questions about what you can (and can’t) do on social media platforms.
Sure, it can add extra time to your publishing process. But involving your compliance team in your approval process can reduce risks for your business.
If per-post approval isn’t necessary, show your compliance team your content creation process. This will allow them to identify risks and let you know when you should consult them.
2. Control access to social accounts
Limiting access to your accounts is a smart way to keep your content under control. It’s also a great way to reduce compliance risks.
Many social media tools (such as Hootsuite) allow you to give different levels of access to each user type. That way, you only have to grant as many permissions as necessary. There are several compliance benefits to these permissions:
Prevent unauthorized access to confidential information (personal data, financial information, and intellectual property). Unauthorized access to this information can lead to security incidents. These can result in legal or financial liabilities.
Ensure that all content posted is accurate and truthful. This is important for regulated industries, where false information can have severe consequences.
3. Monitor your accounts
Monitoring your own social media posts and engagements is critical for compliance. It can help you identify potential issues before they become serious problems.
Brands that work with external salespeople or affiliates should watch for inappropriate claims. The Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC) handles claims in these cases. When sellers for the meal kit brand Tastefully Simple made improper income claims on social media, the brand was held responsible.
In regulated industries, social media monitoring is critical. In some industries, marketers need to respond to comments within a specified time. They may have to report comments, like ones about adverse drug reactions, to a regulatory body.
If you conduct customer service over social media, protecting confidential information is vital. If companies need to request sensitive information over social, use direct messages. Always discourage customers from sharing personal information publicly.
4. Archive everything
In regulated industries, all communications on social media need to be archived. That means keeping detailed records of your business’s social media activity. These records should include posts, ads, and user-generated content. This practice helps you prove compliance in the event of a social media audit or investigation.
We know this can sound daunting. Luckily, there are tools to ease and automate the archival process. They can classify content, create a searchable database, and preserve messages in context. Scroll to the end of this article for some tool recommendations.
5. Create a content library
So you’ve worked hard to learn your industry’s regulations — great! But how do you guarantee each post meets compliance standards? And what if you’re not the only one creating content or posting on behalf of your business?
The answer: create a library of pre-approved content that passes all compliance checks. Collaborators can use this library for easy sharing across their social channels.
If you partner with brands or influencers, practicing proper disclosure is a win-win.
According to the FTC, content creators must disclose all “material connections” to brands in their posts. This includes personal, family, and employment relationships — not just financial relationships.
Brands should also ensure that influencer posts are not misleading. All claims about your products or services should be truthful. When working with influencers, brands should make sure their posts follow regulations. If an influencer breaks any laws, the repercussions could rebound.
7. Invest in regular training
Social media compliance training should be part of your new employee onboarding process. If employees are familiar with the rules, they’re more likely to flag compliance risks.
Social media platforms and compliance regulations can change over time, though. To combat this, businesses should conduct social media compliance regular training.
Your compliance team will know the latest regulatory developments. Use their intel to keep your training up-to-date.
8. Create social media compliance policies
A social media compliance policy is a simple but effective way to educate your employees. It should explain why compliance is important and offer tips to help mitigate risks.
Your policy’s components will vary based on your industry and the size of your business. It might include several different types of policy, such as:
Acceptable use policy. Sets expectations for how fans and followers can interact with your brand. This policy helps reduce risks from public interactions on your social media accounts.
Influencer compliance policy. Outlines disclosure and copywriting guidelines for influencers that work with your brand. You should share this policy transparently with influencers within your signed contract.
Social media compliance policy examples
Here are some examples of actual social media compliance policies from businesses.
Static content is considered an ad and must go through pre-approval for compliance. Interactive content, though, goes through post-review. You must archive both types of social posts for at least three years.
In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) covers financial institutions. Their general stance on social media is pretty straightforward. According to the FCA, “financial promotions must … be fair, clear and not misleading” (source).
Marketers working at government institutions should understand the relevant regulations in their jurisdiction. Then, they should create guidelines that cover:
Content. What is acceptable and what is not acceptable
Citizen engagement. How to interact with citizens, including dealing with harassment and negative interactions online
Representation. How to identify a profile as an official government or political account
Disclaimers. Any disclaimers that should be added to profiles or messages and when
For government institutions, archiving is a requirement, not just a best practice. The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other public records laws mandate that the public have access to government records. These records include government social media posts.
According to FOIA, government social accounts should not block followers, even problematic ones. This includes politicians’ personal accounts if they’re used to conduct political business.
When added to Hootsuite, Proofpoint flags common violations as you type your posts. It won’t allow you to schedule content with compliance issues. Proofpoint will even tell you why content is non-compliant.
Smart Moderation is an AI tool that monitors and moderates real-time user comments. The platform automatically detects and removes unwanted comments. It doesn’t require specific keywords or a blocklist.
These apps allow you to convert any social conversation into a ticket in your case management system. They allow you to resolve complaints or inquiries without leaving your Hootsuite dashboard.
Save time managing your social media presence with Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can publish and schedule posts, find relevant conversions, engage the audience, measure results, and more. Try it free today.