5 Social Media Lessons for Company Legal Departments

Don't let the lawyers get you down! Give them these five simple tips to help them understand what you're trying to do.

When you’re trying to get your corporate blog or social media marketing initiative off the ground, you can expect the lawyers involved. This is especially true if you work for a highly regulated company (such as telecom, financial services or life sciences/health care). In any company, risk is always a serious concern, and the threat of litigation can overshadow even concerns about competitive intelligence. And, let’s be realistic: the legal team is likely to be a skittish bunch.

This can be frustrating for marketing professionals. For us, it isn’t just natural to take risks – it’s a job requirement. If we aren’t pushing out new ideas to generate interest and revenue, then we aren’t doing much of anything. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that the marketing team can wind up head to head with the legal folks over social media marketing initiatives.

I have to be honest: when I got my last big social media marketing program off the ground, I had the sort of legal department that marketers dream about. It was filled with smart people who understand that a business needs to move forward. They saw it as a professional responsibility for them to find ways to help the marketing department deliver the company’s message effectively while not introducing unnecessary risk. Of course, it helped that I brought the legal department a plan that had already accounted for their concerns.

So, how can you help your legal team get past the risks and biases against social media? Introduce them to the five lessons below, from Corporate Secretary, a magazine that speaks their language:

1. Realize that the world runs without your involvement: Corporate Secretary interviewed one source who had been monitoring social media sites until he noticed that news about poor company leadership and CEO departures was taking off. He then decided that he had to take a more active role in communicating via these platforms.

Lesson: watch first, but understand that, at some point, you’ll have to become an active social media user.

2. Understand the up-side: your company may have an opportunity to distinguish itself as a thought leader and gain tighter control over its message in the public. There are more forms of risk than litigation, and using social media can help you protect your company in other ways, from the risk of being misunderstood to competitive threats and brand erosion.

Lesson: think about your company as a whole. If your marketing team wants to get moving on social media, there may be a good reason for it. Find out. Don’t let a knee-jerk reaction about risk prevent progress.

3. And, note the down-side (to not being involved): as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, social media can be used to (help) topple governments. So, do you think your company is immune? Not becoming part of the broader social media dialogue could cause issues to gain momentum before you’ve had a chance to get involved.

Lesson: learn from the world around you. Consumers can resemble angry citizens, and if they feel they’ve been wronged, they’ll make their voices heard. Smart social media engagement can actually mitigate many forms of risk.

4. Even industries resistant to change are getting involved: sometimes, it’s easy to cite your peers as a reason not to try something new. If nobody else is doing it, maybe you can get away with skipping it too … right? Well, not so fast. Even “slow” industries are testing the waters, notes Corporate Secretary. Once the social media ball is rolling, you’ll have trouble stopping it.

Lesson: do you want to be first or last in the space? It’s that simple. Join at the tail of adoption, and your competitors will be comfortable while you’re still trepidatious.

5. Fear is failure: Corporate Secretary put it elegantly: “You fear, you fail”. It really is that simple. If you don’t engage in the social media space – or allow your marketing department to so – fear of the environments and attendant risks will become tantamount to a marketing failure, which will lead to substantial missed opportunities for your company.

Lesson: proceed intelligently. Don’t avoid social media, but do make sure your company has a plan for dealing with the risks associated with it. Planning is never a bad idea.