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Do You Really Want To Be An Expert?

As published by MyBusiness Magazine

Building your profile as an ‘expert’ may not be as clever as you think and could land you in court (and not as an expert witness)

At a time when information and resources are abundant and freely distributed via websites and social media, there’s no shortage of experts. But is labelling yourself an ‘expert’ to elevate yourself above competitors a smart thing to do?

The dictionary definition of the term ‘expert’ provides that an expert is a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of, or skill in, a particular area. Labeling yourself an ‘expert’ doesn’t make you one and could lead you to legal consequences if you cannot back it up.

The meaning of ‘expert’ under the law takes on a somewhat different context. As far as the law is concerned, a person claiming to be an expert will, put simply, be held to a very high standard. This means that if ever you are scrutinised as a consequence of your conduct, you will be held to standard significantly higher than ‘non-experts’…a standard that would be reasonably expected of a person having a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of, or skill, in a particular area.

The Australian Consumer Law (the ACL) is important consumer protection legislation. Under the ACL, a person is prohibited from engaging in conduct that is misleading or deceiving. Also prohibited is the misrepresentation that services provided are of a particular standard, quality or grade.

It would be reasonable to conclude that a person, who holds themself out as being an expert despite having little or average experience or skills in the services that they are offering, would be in breach of the ACL. The Internet is not short of self-confessed experts.

A breach of the ACL may result in an injunction being granted (to stop prohibited conduct), an award of damages and/or compensatory orders. Not to mention, a severe dent to any reputation that you may have as an ‘expert’.

Put simply, any person who claims to be an expert must be able to substantiate and validate that they possess the attributes of an expert. Otherwise, significant financial penalties can apply.

TIP: The label of expert is best given by others. But does that come with a risk of it’s own?

Endorsements

Consider the above in light of endorsements that you might receive via a website or social media account such as LinkedIn.

Most of us have no trouble in receiving an abundance of endorsements via our LinkedIn page. Sometimes from people we barely (if at all) know. And in some cases, for services that we don’t even provide. Awesome, huh? Definitely not.

Accepting and displaying endorsements and testimonials on your LinkedIn page may be a great vote for your credentials. However, allowing inflated, false or inaccurate feedback to be published on your LinkedIn page (or other social media pages) could lead to legal action and fines.

Here’s the risk. Endorsements and testimonials could fall foul of clear guidelines set out in the ACL. Displaying a false endorsement or testimonial on your website, or anywhere for that matter, could amount to misleading and deceptive conduct.

There have been cases that dealt with leaving false testimonials on a website and Facebook page. It was held in those cases that you cannot turn your back on a false testimonial written by a third party.

While the thumbs up from others may be effective advertising, the onus is on the owner of the business to make sure any published statements are accurate and don’t make fanciful or untrue claims. A person is entitled to rely on representations that you make about your business.

You have the same liability with social media pages as you do with your own website. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is very clear about businesses not allowing deceptive statements to appear in any of their communications with the public.

If you are a business owner, it’s important that you have procedures and policies in place to check the accuracy of any testimonials or feedback. You need to monitor your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and website very carefully or risk a potentially heavy fine.

Put simply, if you are going to talk the talk, you must be able to walk the walk. Or be ready for the consequences.