Social PR vs. Legal: Conversation with a Hint of Caution


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Some people read tea leaves. Some people read coffee grounds. Some people read palms, stars, bird flight patterns, or entrails.

Me? I read corporate social media guidelines. And yes, that means I can predict your future.

I admit, my predictions are very limited in scope; they remain, however, impressive in accuracy: with just 10 minutes to peruse your corporate social media engagement guidelines, I can tell you whether your outreach efforts will succeed or fail. And unlike most augurs, I’m happy to share my methods. They boil down to just four exceedingly simple questions about your guideline document:

  1. Is it shorter than 2 pages?
  2. Is it posted publicly on your website?
  3. Can I count the uses of “do not” and “is not permitted” on one hand? And
  4. After reading it, do I have a clue what is okay to say?

Predicting social media successLike all good divinators, I’m looking for signs–fingerprints, almost, in this case, and they belong to the legal department. (Hint: a “no” to any of those questions sets off my lawyer-dar.) The attorney team has incredibly important things to say about the outer limits of what can be said on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but the day-to-day workings of positive relationship building? Not a lawyer’s forte. Lean too much toward their preemptively defensive approach, and a social media team of any size will likely end up tongue-tied — too fearful of the risk to shoot for the reward. And at that point, you might as well go back to issuing press releases by fax; social media ain’t the game for you.

It is possible, however, to balance the caution of legal with the excitement of more (ahem) human interaction. Nail down the parameters of appropriate social engagement, and then write the guidelines like your team is comprised of adults who have no desire to screw up or get fired. (Presumably, that’s a hiring requirement.) Make the rules short, encouraging, and clear — about both goals and consequences — and then make them public. By being simple and open yourself, you’ll encourage your people to engage with personality and common sense, which is, after all, rule of engagement #1.

Does a sunshine policy necessarily mean you’ll knock social media out of the park? Well, of course not, but it is a sign that you understand the climate in which social media can succeed. Reasonable caution is called for, but fear doesn’t drive growth. You don’t need tea leaves to tell you that.

Kate Schackai is the Social Media Director at Crawford PR and the author of White Hat PR, where she crusades to bring best practices to the online wild west.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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