Top tips to keep you out of trouble online

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It sometimes seems that people can put whatever they like on the internet, without worrying about where they got it, who they're offending or who it belongs to. Of course, that is not the case.

The internet has its own rules, regulations and etiquette, and the sooner you're up to speed with it, the sooner you can get on with building your business' web presence.

Content supplied by Barclays 

There is a wealth of information at your keyboard-tapping fingertips when it comes to this arena, so rather than reproduce it here, we asked Chris Moriarty and his team at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) to give us a rundown of key things to look out for and some great places to find lots more useful information:

Key things to remember when you're taking your business online

Keeping your online content fresh and engaging is vital. Not only does a steady stream of content give customers a reason to return but it also is becoming increasingly important for search engine optimisation (SEO).

Creating your own content, or 'Content marketing' is also a growing trend for businesses. This can position you as an expert in your field and therefore help build your brand. This could be blogs or videos, which in turn can be used to hook people in from social networking sites.

However, you need to ensure that content is not plagiarised or breaching a third party copyright – including use of logos. Always ask permission to use logos, and any content from other people or businesses.

If you are gathering names and addresses (postal or email) then you have to keep data protection in mind and ensure you ask people if they want to be contacted – you can find the full Data Protection Act 1998 here, if you need further detail on this.

Big 'no-nos'

I'd say there are three key things to start off with:

1. DON'T be guilty of spam

Hammering your customers, and potential customers, with sales led copy can be a real turn off. Make sure that content is engaging, relevant for your customers and most importantly, if you're sending anything to their email or mobile phone that you have their permission to contact them

2. DO know your cookies

A 'cookie' is a small amount of data that a website generates when it opens, which the web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox) remembers. This can be used for a variety of things: cookies can 'remember' a login and password, so users don't have to retype it each time; or store the preferences of a user, say the products they have browsed. Ensure that you are compliant with cookie legislation; this is the process of gathering data about your website users whilst they're visiting your site. You may have seen other sites with a pop-up message asking whether you would like to have this function on or off.

Find out how to make sure you're compliant in this useful video.   

          3. DON'T breach third party copyright

A lot of people assume that if they find content through Google they can use it – but this is certainly not the case. Material on the internet most likely has an owner. If you investigate a site's terms and conditions it will usually give some steer as to who owns what and the process of asking whether you're allowed to reproduce anything.

Music and pictures are even trickier than the written word – even if the composer has been dead for 70 years the arranger, the musicians, and the recording label all have their copyright.

Pictures are also fiercely guarded and some agents are very strict about usage and will pursue through the courts. Even if you have purchased images for other parts of your business, such as a brochure, do not assume that you can use the photos for the internet. The permissions you gained may not cover online. Always double-check exactly what usage you are permitted before you go ahead and publish.

However, there are a number of sites that have Royalty Free images/music or some that you can purchase for a small fee. Don't just copy and paste from Google images. You can get Royalty Free images from a few sources, such as Creative Commons

You can get lots more useful information at the Intellectual Property Office.

But it's not all doom and gloom, this legislation is there to protect you too. If people used the content that you put up, they would be breaching your copyright. That goes for the unique material you own and that which you have permissions to use. This does mean you need to ensure your terms and conditions are clear as to the usage of material on your site. The Intellectual Property Office can help with putting together your terms of usage too, so take a look at how they break it down if you're not sure where to start.


Booking appointments, selling products and other business website functions

One of your key considerations will be data protection – where are you storing customers' details? Who has access to them? Take a really good look at the Data Protection Act 1998 to make sure you know your customers' rights.

When it comes to e-commerce, there are a few free things you need to think about, so take a look through this guide.

When it comes to advertising your products and services, take a look at the CAP Code, which outlines what you can and can't do when advertising products.


Offensive comments on websites 

There have been cases where the Advertising Standards Authority have upheld complaints relating to comments made on a discussion that breached their CAP Code. Therefore, businesses need to ensure that they are moderating comments and making sure that they don't break any of the mentioned regulations as your organisation could be held liable for it.

If you are worried about taking down customer comments, why don't you try posting a code of conduct on your site, so people know what you will put up with and what you won't,
including any of the regulations in the CAP Code.

If you're not sure how to put this together, try looking at other sites to see how theirs looks – each one will be different, though, so make sure you build yours to suit you and your business.


More help and support

  • CIM has a number of short guides that help businesses with their marketing
  • The CAP team offer free advice for businesses on written content
  • The Info Commissioners Office can help with Data Protection
  • The Intellectual Property Office can help with Copyright, Design, Patent, Trade Marks regulations


Final top tips from Chris

  • Keep it fresh and original
  • Check usage permissions on all content you wish to use
  • Avoid plagiarism
  • Don't criticise competitors (however tempting it might be)

Now you've got all the info, are you ready to take our quiz again to put your knowledge to the test – don't forget to share you score, if you dare! 

Take our online rules, regulations and etiquette quiz to see how internet ready you are!

Plus, we've got lots more top tips on how you can build your business with a little help from the internet, so put all your perfect online manners to good work with the rest of the Online Business Fortnight.


Head to Barclays on Mumsnet for lots more:


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Last updated: about 3 years ago