As more and more businesses migrate to the use of social media the proverbial question of legal risk raises its ugly head. Legal concerns of uncontrolled employee participation, disclosure of private corporate information and related matters causes corporate legal departments to raise concerns about controlling communications in public forums.
According to Lauren Gelman, associate director of the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, it’s all about control. “Employers aren’t happy that employees have this new ability to speak about the workplace and about their employers to the world,” said Gelman. “No longer do the public relations departments have the sole avenue of communication as to what the company message is.”
Subsequently we’re seeing the appearance of new corporate policies relative to use of “social technology” on company time and specifically as it relates to using social media to achieve specific corporate objectives. According to The Blog Council’s research, 64 (12.8%) of the Fortune 500 are blogging. Open the link below to see their table which lists these companies, a sampling of their blogs, and links to Fortune 500 business blog reviews. You can discuss this wiki on Twitter at the Tweetworks Group Fortune500BusinessBlogs. John Cass is currently the volunteer community organizer for the Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki.
Which Risk Are The Greatest?
Having a corporate policy concerning use of social media is a means to mitigating legal risk however not understanding and managing the related factors can actually create more risk not covered in a corporate policy. There are several factors that influence the ultimate risk of a transparent world fueled by social technology. These factors include:
- Corporate culture: Improving corporate culture is an ongoing process largely influenced by communications. If the current culture breeds distrust between management and employees social media can help a transformation or it can create further distrust. Management positions, actions, and communications relative to the use of social media will be the guide for the employees to determine whether the initiatives are truly “social” or another attempt to control employee opinions through spin. Trust is a sensitive issue.
- Educational Resources: Opening up your company to use of the multitude of social technologies without providing educational resources can be very dangerous. Using social technology is both an art and a science. Like any new technology using it effectively is a learning curve for all participants. The faster people learn the quicker the organization will realize optimal benefits. The landscape of social technology, its uses, new developments and best practices is an ongoing process which requires monitoring and communicating to those who will be participating.
- Message & Method Alignment: Traditional marketing methods and messages need to be in alignment or your organization will be ridiculed by the blogosphere. Don’t say or do one thing without the other saying and doing the same. The market of conversations looks for consistency in message and methods. Pushing a message verse engaging the market in a conversation can hurt your reputation and recovery takes time.
- Defining Strategic Objectives: It is important that businesses define the strategic objectives for using social media. Not having measurable objectives that relate, directly as well as indirectly, to specific business objectives will create the risk of wasting time, energy and money which reduces business optimization and shareholder value.
- Plan, Do, Check & Act: Having a corporate policy to mitigate legal liabilities is only part of the requirements of successfully using social media. Designing and executing a plan covering items 1-4 above plus incorporating measures to monitor impacts and being prepared to adjust your plan periodically reduces the ultimate risk of poor performance and negative reactions by your market.
So business leaders and their legal departments must go beyond simply creating a “corporate policy about the use of social media” and consider the “systemic risk” of not having the knowledge or resources to effectively manage all the “risk factors”. Which risk is greater? The legal issues or those outlined in 1 – 5 above? Stating the rules is one thing but not understanding the spirit of the rule is another.
What say you?
PS: We’ve just completed a white paper titled “An Assessment of Social Media Policies & Practices”. If you’d like a copy just email me at [email protected]