Many businesses are excited to share ideas and start conversations on social media—and they should be. It isn’t always easy to get people to really connect with your accounts and participate in your discussions, so you want to do what you can to be impressive and earn some engagement. Unfortunately, sometimes sharing all of your ideas on social networks can backfire, and most small businesses aren’t prepared.

Getting your readers interested in an idea or a great contest is never a bad thing, but you want to take precautions to make sure that someone out there isn’t stealing your idea. Most businesses have heard of “intellectual property,” but now the term is being brought into the social media world.

What is Intellectual Property and How Does It Work With Social Media?

For those who are unfamiliar, intellectual property is and idea that you own when it is published or printed (so on social media). Even though you may not have a patent or official documentation, it is your intellectual property. When things go wrong, someone steals you’re idea, he/she gets the credit, and you get to watch someone else get rich. Someone stealing a company’s intellectual property can usually just go right over to a Facebook page or LinkedIn account, check it out as if he/she was just a normal reader, steal a few ideas, and leave. It’s as simple as that.

Fortunately, there are measures that small businesses can take to protect what is said on their social accounts. A few of these precautions include:

  • Google Alerts: Set up Google Alerts to track certain key terms or your company name. This will help you see when these things pop up online.
  • Trademark: Before you set up your social media accounts, make sure that your company has a trademark to help protect the name. If you have any strong ideas that you want patented, do this before posting on social accounts.
  • Scheduling Tools: Consider using social scheduling tools (Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, etc.) to track your company name and keywords. This focuses on social media as opposed to the web like Google Alerts.

It is also worth mentioning that it isn’t always a good idea to take action when it comes to intellectual property. If you think someone has stolen an idea, talk with that person to determine if it was unintentional. In most cases, the person will remove whatever is bothering you. It’s also not a good idea to take action if you’re benefitting from someone trying to use your company name—it’s only when your business is in jeopardy that you should take the next step.

What to Do When You Want to Take Action about an Intellectual Property Issue

Taking action involves some research. First, you will want to read up on the “terms of service” of the social network account where you think the intellectual property issue occurred. These pages usually help you see what steps you can take. Next, file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice to hopefully block the website that has stolen your idea from Google. Lastly, you’ll want to talk with a legal professional to determine the final process.

While it may seem easy, this is a new issue. Many small businesses simply don’t even realize this is a problem until it’s too late. People have been dealing with intellectual property issues for many years, but the issue with regards to social media is new. The sooner your company gets prepared, the better.

Has your company ever been a victim in a similar situation? Is this something that concerns you when you think about your business? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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