How being “helpful” online could cost you big time!


 Asking for advice when venturing into any new trade is advisable. Whether you ask your friends to recommend you a good restaurant for dinner or you pick your partner’s brain asking if the black dress accentuates the shape of your body more or the red one does, we all have a habit to ask questions from people who are relatively more experienced than us.

 Social media, provides a two-way communication platform between you, other business owners and your consumers. This leads to constructive communication, right? Well, not always.

 The issue with accessing and providing online advice is that it can be misleading. This is not to say that people are not trying to be helpful on social media, they certainly are. Unfortunately, their eagerness (and sometimes your eagerness) to help can sometimes obscure the fact that they (or you) are not experts in the question being helped.

 In the wonderland that we call the internet, people like to pass judgements and recommendation to other novices, even if they themselves have no proper understanding of the area of business they are commenting on.

 Let’s take the issue of insurance as an example. As a business owner, you would have insurance, or should at least have taken professional advice as to whether or not insurance is appropriate for your particular business and circumstances.

 If you see someone online asking what type of business insurance they should consider, you might be tempted to share your personal experience. I am not saying you should not do so, but I am saying that a little caution is in order.


Imagine, that you do share your insurance experience and, in this example, the person receiving your advice relies on it, and obtains their own insurance directly with an insurance company, taking no professional advice as to whether or not such insurance is adequate or appropriate. Then imagine, that disaster strikes, and that person is flooded, but in your advice to them on social media you didn’t mention flooding insurance, because your business has never been flooded and it is something that you did not need. Or taking another example, imagine that you are a business coach, so it did not occur to you that you might need insurance regarding the potential health side-effects of a product sold or a therapeutic service offered by the person who asked the general insurance question. Or maybe your list of suggestions did not include insurance for their plate glass windows at their shop, as you have a work from home business and did not realise that most leases require the lessee to foot the bill if their shop windows or glass doors are broken.

 The list of potential business risks is virtually limitless. Each type of business, and each individual business within that particular business type, might have specific risks that you might not be aware of. Also, risks or laws might have changed since you went through your situation.

 Getting back to our luckless business owner who took your insurance advice on social media, they have now suffered some disaster and substantial financial loss due to accepting your well-intentioned advice, and they will be looking to find somebody who can foot the bill. They have the option of suing you for providing inadequate advice, which they relied on, and which resulted in their financial loss.

 If you want to provide information or advice online, here are my top tips to avoid getting into legal trouble:

·         Advise in your field of expertise

      Generally, it is best to stick to advising within your field of expertise. That is where you have your most knowledge and skill, and know how to avoid things that might go wrong. Even then, you should add “of course, this is only general information, and your specific situation might differ or need a different approach.”

·         Make it clear you are not claiming to be an expert

    For example, you could say “I am no insurance expert, but … ” or “my insurance broker recommended that I look at the following types of insurance [list them out] but there might be other risks that apply to your situation. Most insurance brokers will do a free consultation with you. I used [insert name] and found them to be very good.” You even need to be careful of saying that the broker IS good (because they may do a bad job sometimes), so just say “I found them to be …

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 Cathryn Warburton is an internationally award-winning solicitor, patent attorney, mentor, author and speaker. She is The Legal Lioness with a passion for safeguarding her clients’ business and intellectual property interests. She founded Acacia Law when she realised that law firms run by old men were too inflexible to empower her to tailor her legal solution to each client’s needs.

*  Please note that this blog is provided for general informational purposes only. Each legal situation differs. Reading this blog cannot replace obtaining specific legal advice. We recommend that you obtain legal advice for your specific situation.