Will the Lawyers Neuter Social Media?

By Mark Evans - Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 at 7:30 am  

 Social media has given companies and their employees new ways to communicate and engage with key stakeholders such as potential and existing customers but it has also opened up another can of words: the potential to create problems around competitive, regulatory, liability and human relations issues.

As much as companies want to be active and more transparent on social media, they also need to be pragmatic about how and what they communicate and, as important, who gets to do it. We’re not talking about companies controlling the conversations because that horse left the barn a long time ago, but having the ability to manage different situations or, at least, have processes in place to deal with them.

In a recent blog post on Texas Lawyer, Darin Klemchuk puts the spotlight on some key issues and the things companies need to do to protect their interests. On one hand, it’s solid advice because he identifies issues and considerations that should not be ignored. But on the other hand, it is interesting and perhaps troubling when lawyers step into fray, particularly when it involves a fast-moving, free-flowing medium such as social media.

The mandate of many corporate lawyers is keeping their employers and employees out of trouble. It means they often take a conservative approach if there is any indication an issue or problem could arise. While they have the company’s best interests in mind, the involvement of lawyers can be frustrating for people running social media because it means they may not be able to operate with as much freedom or react as quickly as they would like.

One of the key considerations going forward as social media becomes baked into the corporate landscape is how much freedom and latitude social media will continue to enjoy. As much as social media opens new opportunities, social media can also make a company more vulnerable to criticism, lawsuits, regulatory issues and liability concerns.

So the $64,000 question is how involved will the corporate lawyers be when it comes to social media, and if they do have a growing presence will it hamper or neuter a company’s social media activities?

In many ways, the rules when it comes to social media and the role of lawyers is still work in progress. As much as companies need to have best practice policies and codes of contact, they will undoubtedly have to be sure they are legally onside as well.

Here’s hoping the lawyers play an important role but, at the same time, allow companies to use social media as creatively and actively as they can.

 

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