When Legal and Social Media Programs Collide


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On Monday I was on an exciting panel called “social media best practices” at a conference “Social Media Risk and Reward” with John Lipsey of Martindale Connected, Eugene Weitz– former counsel for Alcatel Lucent, Doug Cornelius, Beacon Capital Partners, and Daniel Goldman, Legal Counsel at Mayo Clinic.

Over 100 legal counsel from mainly big companies, many publicly traded, assembled to delve into a day of discussion and analysis about what to do about social media. The focus of the event was to help Corporate Counsel understand social media’s legal risks and limitations to help them protect their companies better. As one speaker said, the goal was to help legal move away from saying “no, because…” and into saying “yes, if….” when it comes to social media policy. In so many ways, this was a ground-breaking event!

While I am not a lawyer, here are some of the key points from the meeting.

  • Monitoring the social media channel is the first step to success. All it takes is one disgruntled employee or customer to harm a company reputation so following what is being said online is critical. Set up alerts and use social media monitoring tools to keep track of engagement. “The best defense is a good offense.” Another reference point here was a recent Jupiter Research study that established that people trust peer generated content over the content put forth by a company. Makes sense!
  • When bad things happen online, take a measured response when responding to blog posts, leaving comments or interacting with the person. In other words, only fools rush in! So, presume all your social media efforts are permanent and act accordingly. (there is no giant internet Eraser.)
  • Even though social media takes an informal tone and is more interactive, this does not mean off the cuff posts are a good idea as they could impact stock price and other aspects of the company financial. Blog posts and all other public displays should be treated with the same rigor as any other form of information disclosure.

There was also a lot of talk about employees, policy and social media. From the discussions – the biggest hot seat for organizations is when employees comment or contribute online with company or product specific information without disclosing they’re an employee. Thus transparency need to be an essential part of social media employee policy. “Be clear about who you are, where you work and why you are contributing” was the advise given on a panel about Corporate Media Policy. Another key point from this session was that blocking access to social media (which is a growing trend lately!) is an uphill battle and not a best practice. This often drives employees to access social media sites on their mobile sets instead of their computers.

In the Intellectual Property (IP) panel one of the main discussions was about whether the company or the individual owns Twitter followers/ accounts or an active blog readership community. In this age where many people are personally branded and that brand helps influence and drive company benefits in the form of thought-leadership online, this question appears to be a complicated one. Same goes for LinkedIn recommendations – should HR allow staff to leave testimonials online for peers etc?

I had the pleasure of summarizing best practice findings for the session and one of the key takeaways I offer is the reality that legal is often brought in too late in the process of social media engagement activities within most organizations and in order to be truly successful. Granted, I am the first one to groan when legal guidance puts the kaboch on a plan or elements of a social media program, but as social media policy and regulations are still being formulated, there is real exposure to be had for the company without their involvement. For successful strategic social media programs to occur two things must be present:

1) Legal needs to be well-versed in social media rewards, opportunities, rules and tools to really be able to help the company succeed. Social media is here to stay and companies need to figure out the best ways to leverage it from a business perspective while staying within the confines of legal best practice. Companies can be well served by utilizing counsel who understand the medium.

2) Legal needs to be involved in the social media business planning life cycle – early on as a trusted adviser. Currently, in most cases they are only brought in when marketing campaigns or online community efforts are already baked but that is often too late. Then they need to slow the process and do due diligence with policy and planning oversight to ensure compliance. Yet, if they can be brought in early they can help streamline speed to market. CMOs should reach out and offer legal a seat earlier in order to go faster in the long-run.

Vanessa DiMauro
Vanessa DiMauro is CEO of Leader Networks, a research and strategy consulting company that helps organizations succeed in social business and B2B online community building. DiMauro is a popular speaker, researcher and author. She has founded numerous online communities, and has developed award winning social business strategies for some of the most influential organizations in the world. Her work is frequently covered by leading publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.


  1. This is an extensive topic, there is so much to say about it. Companies interests often fight against social media and struggle to find the worth of them or are lost in a ocean of social networks without a guide and benefits. Then social media policy are really complex and involve international legal systems. To find a social media laywer would be really useful. Would you mean to share how could they be reached?

  2. Chiara,
    Thanks for your comment! There are a variety of ways to find a social media-enabled legal counsel. The size of your organization will likely guide your strategy – if you are from a mid to large company, the best first place would be to look internally to the company legal department. Talk to the Chief Legal Counsel – see who she recommends from the legal team. This will also bubble up the line of business need to have the competency in-house. If you have the luxury of choice from a few staff attys, the talk directly with the individuals and vet them for their knowledge base to find the right match. Best not to be predisposed to a young counsel, as there are plenty of senior counsel who also have a experiential knowledge base.

    If there is no likely candidate in-house, see if your staff atty would join Martindale-Hubbell Connected (http://www.martindale.com/connected) This is one of a few (but the largest and most well established) online community for lawyers. There is an active group on this legal professional only site that is discussing social media best practices and sharing information online. They may be able to source an atty there or get smarter on the key issues.

    Hope that helps!
    Vanessa DiMauro


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