As social media evolves, it’s important to stay on top of the rules and guidelines for leveraging content generated on social sites in your marketing materials. Knowing as we do that social proof is incredibly influential to potential customers, it’s understandable that businesses want to make the most of it in their marketing. However, neglecting to understand (or openly disregarding) the rules that govern this content can potentially land you in some very hot water.

Take, for example, the recent dust-up over CBS Films’ use of a tweet (or part of a tweet) by New York Times film critic A. O. Scott in a print ad. The studio took out a full page ad in Times promoting the film Inside Llewyn Davis, and the ad’s creative featured a single tweet by A. O. Scott.

Pretty brilliant, right? Maybe, maybe not. There are two big problems with this ad. The first being the tweet was not shown in its entirety – it was edited to remove the mention of two other films.

The second, and perhaps larger problem, is that the ad was run without the critic’s permission. According to The Verge, Scott was actually approached about the idea and did not endorse it.

And while it’s true that Scott made his comment in a public forum and therefore runs the risk of being quoted, the real legal issue comes in because of Twitter’s own terms of service, which explicitly state that tweets can not be used for commercial purposes without permission from the creator. Seems pretty cut and dry, but we’ll have to watch how it plays out in the next few weeks to see what will come of it.

Lessons For Your Small Business

So what should you, as a small business owner, take away from this debacle? Should you steer clear of social proof in your marketing? Lord, no. Should you play it safe and never push the envelope in creatively using new media? Certainly not. There are plenty of ways to leverage customer testimonials and reviews from social media in legitimate ways. And while the rules are still a little fuzzy from platform to platform, there are three basic things you should always consider in order to make the best decisions for your business. When using customer reviews, think about:

1. Permission. This is always the safest bet. No matter the platform, (Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) the absolute best way to protect yourself and your business is to simply ask before you use. As the Small Business Administration points out, review content is the intellectual property of the creator, and using it may infringe on copyright. And if you think about it, if someone is happy enough with your products or services to tout them on the web, they’d probably be happy to have you use their quote. Operating under the old “if you don’t ask, they can’t say no” rules of engagement is outdated, and simply unwise.

2. Accuracy. If for some reason you find it is not feasible to get permission for the content you want to reuse, another way to avoid controversy is to ensure complete accuracy of the quote. If a customer sees their quote on your page, they are likely to think ‘well, I did say that in public, so I guess it’s fair game’ if they see that they were quoted accurately. However, if you make modifications to their quote to make it suit your purposes, you better be prepared for some backlash. Not only are they more likely to come after you for using their quote without permission, they will have a legal leg to stand on if they do.

3. Context/Intent. One of the problems with changing a quote is that the change can alter the intent of the statement. This can happen without changing any of the words though – it’s easy to change something’s meaning by simply removing the context around it. As with A. O. Scott’s tweet, while CBS Studios did not change any of the words in the quote, they did remove the first half of his statement for their purposes. For example, if a restaurant patron said “The food was great – but that did not make up for the terrible service”, it would be seriously shady for the owner to quote them as saying “The food was great.” Think about the intent of the statement and make sure you adhere to it in your reprinting.

Have you ever run into this issue in your marketing activities? Tell us how you resolved it in the comments below.

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Online Content Specialist and resident blogger at Pagemodo. Loves social media, branding, whales. Get more from Sarah on Pagemodo’s Blog and Google+.

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