Bring Legal in Early on Your Social Media Strategy

There are a lot of fun things to talk about when dealing with creating a social media strategy. Tweeting, blogging, videoing, creating ideas, interacting with avid fans and evangelists can all be some of the best parts of social media strategies and planning. Then there are the not-so-fun parts, like dealing with the legal repercussions of someone saying something on a social media site that can land your company in a whole lot of hot water.

Let’s face it, when you hear the words “legal,” “lawyers,” or “attorneys,” you don’t have a very positive reaction, do you? Most likely, your first reaction is to groan, then pull out your wallet and think, “I wonder how much this is going to cost me?”

With social media, it’s better to make these experienced professionals part of your team from the inception. Bringing them in on the back end for the cleanup of a mess that was unintentionally made doesn’t make for a great relationship. Knowing the legal rules of the road when you’re entering into and engaging in conversations on social media sites can save a lot of time, sweat, tears, and — most of all — money.

Legal can guide you in the what, when, where, and how to engage in the social media realm, while also helping you keep things straight with your employees about the actions they take on social media sites. From policies about what kind of language you’ll accept on your blog from readers posting comments, to how to handle employees’ actions on social media sites outside normal work hours, your legal team can be one of your best allies.

Comment and Trackback Policies

Legal can help you devise and solidify comment and trackback policies when it comes to your blog, or even your online marketing team commenting on other community blogs. They can keep you in the clear with the right legal language to keep you from getting into hot water for not accepting comments that might not fit your company’s image. An example of this would be not accepting comments that are racist, threatening, or vulgar in their content.

Rules & Regulations

This is especially important if you run a forum, message board, or niche social media networking site. Your team of legal experts can help you structure rules and regulations that your community needs to abide by legally that won’t endanger your company.

What Can Be Said

While you don’t want to suppress your online marketing team’s voice, you need them to be aware of delicate matters that might not be wise to speak about in the social media forums. Your legal team can help you devise a set of policies that addresses what employees can say legally to keep you on the right side of the law.

Who Can Say What Needs to be Said

In some industries, medical or pharma for example, administrative or marketing employees can’t go around dispensing medical advice on social media sites. This would be a huge legal and moral risk to a company. The team of legal experts you employ can help you address situations like this, where it could be questionable about who’s involved in your social media strategy.

How Things Can Be Said

Can you post pictures? How about videos? Can you make podcasts? What about replying to forum threads or blog posts. Again, your legal department can help you with how things can be said from a legal standpoint when it comes to your company and your industry.

Where Things Can and Can’t be Said

Are there certain sites that your company needs to avoid? Are you allowed, legally, to post those company-specific photos on Flickr? That video of how your product was made, can that be put up onto YouTube, or does your company have a strict agreement to only post that video on another video-sharing site? The attorneys you employ can help you draft a guideline to help your online marketing team better understand where they can deliver the social media strategy you’re creating.

Employee Policies Regarding Social Media Interaction

Increasingly, more employees are on the Internet, and those same employees are becoming involved in social media. They don’t even have to be part of the team that’s putting together your social media strategy to have an affect on it. This is why you also need legal in on developing policies for social media and your employees:

  • Work hours: How your employees act on social media sites during work hours is important. The same is true for their access to social media sites.
  • Non-Work Hours: Even though your employees are away from the building, they are likely still involved with social media. Even the most seemingly innocent action around friends or family could cause your company serious repercussions without the employee’s knowledge. This is why it’s important to have your legal team create policies to address social media interaction during off hours.
  • Repercussions of Actions: Your team of legal experts can help you create a list of policies and repercussions for not following those policies when it comes to social media. What is a firing offense? What is an offense that merits a warning? And on the flip side, how do you reward employees for a job well done in social media that doesn’t look like favoritism? Legal can definitely guide you through all of that.

Contingency Plans

You always need a backup plan. That “what if” plan that if something goes terribly wrong and you aren’t in just hot water, but a boiling hot cauldron of legal trouble. Legal can help you set up a guide to follow should something terrible happen with your social media strategy.

Most legal professionals are only now starting to understand the world of social media. Like most of us, it’s through their own interactions with friends on these sites. For this reason, it’s a good idea to sit down with your legal team and teach them a bit more about the inner workings of social media when it relates to your online marketing strategy.

Give your legal team an hour-long fundamentals presentation about the different types of social media. Having a basic understanding will better help guide you legally through the ins and outs of your planned strategy.

While you may not think of legal as an integral part of your social media plan, you really should bring them in from the very beginning. If they feel like they’re part of your team from the inception, they’re more likely to understand and able to help you accomplish your goals in ways that keep you on the up and up.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center.

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