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Social Media Managers Are From Venus — And So Are Corporate Lawyers

SM-lawYou may be thinking that this post’s headline doesn’t make sense, especially if you have tried to push social media initiatives through legal approval.

But it probably got you to read this, so bear with me and let me know at the end if you still don’t agree with it.

I’m just back from SXSW in Austin (and dried out as well). The conference is so large now that it’s had to spread out over hotels a half mile or more apart. It made it tough to make it to interesting panels, but despite that fact, I was able to attend one that was hugely relevant to me, as someone working on enterprise social media programs.

The session was called “Bridging the Lawyer-Social Media Manager Divide” and featured Richard Pesce, Capital One’s Senior Manager for Social Media & Digital Communications, and June Casalmir, in-house counsel with Sprint Nextel’s Consumer & Marketing Practices.

Richard was previously with Sprint and worked with June on social media planning and initiatives, so they discussed how they developed a collaborative working relationship. Much of what they discussed was similar to my experience working with clients’ in-house counsel over the past four years, but there were other tips shared that are very worthwhile.

Make the Legal Team Part of the Social Effort

The reality of social media means working with the legal team. June and Richard cited a tweet from Ford social media strategist Scott Monty, calling it “a necessary evil”. When they asked him to clarify, Scott said “that interacting with legal team isn’t painful, but the topic is.”

Relationship building applies here according to June.  An audience member rightfully said that if either party thinks of the situation as a gap that needs to be closed, there always will be a gap.

Richard addressed this by saying that social/digital media is very much a creative process that works best when many stakeholders from across the company are involved in a coodinated fashion. This includes the lawyers, and asking for their ideas and creative input makes them more supportive of specific initiatives along the way.

Invariably, one of the first thing legal says is, “I don’t want to do this, but I know we have to.” There will be times when the legal team will say no, not because they are risk-averse, but because they are protecting the company.

Know the Laws

For a social media media manager, it is helpful to know where the in-house counsel is coming from, particularly in terms of having the most in-depth knowledge of FTC rules and other compliance issues that can put the company at risk.  Richard and June summarized the legal/policy initiatives impacting social:

  • Privacy
  • Notice and disclosure requirements
  • Intellectual property

A great way to bridge the gap is to build “social media manager competency” on the law and legal issues into the job. June advised companies to insist on training focused on these issues, as it helps social media managers to present the facts about how an initiative takes compliance issues into account. She pointed the audience to the following video on Copyright Law and Fair Use as examples of the information available.

Other great resources to educate yourself include:

Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law blog

Shear on Social Media Law – blog by Washington, DC attorney Bradley Shear

Social Media Policy Directory

@SMediaLaw on Twitter – curated news/articles related to social media and the law by JDSupra.com

UPDATE 3/15: I was remiss yesterday in adding Spin Sucks as a resource, as Gini Dietrich and her team often touch on disclosure regulations in particular. Today, Gini writes about the newly released FTC Dot Com Disclosures.

Educate, Don’t Proselytize

This advice came from June.  Lawyers aren’t there just to give the rubber stamp. “You’re not there litigating with me, you’re there to educate me,” she said. What in-house counsel wants is an education of the facts of the social media initiative or program being presented — the business goals, the tools you are planning to use, and how you would use the tools.

Richard built on this by discussing the importance of training lawyers on the tools and platform, showing them how they, how other companies are using them and how the platform will benefit the company and help it meet the campaign’s goals.

Return on Investment

Yes, ROI.

In addition to the three areas of discussion during the panel, I’d add this based upon my own experience. When you are sharing the metrics from your social media efforts related to the goals, include your legal partners in this presentation. A significant reason why in-house counsel is resistant is because they need to be convinced it is a worthwhile investment of their time.

Particularly in public companies, they are reviewing contracts and quarterly financial documents. Asking them to add contest rules, employee social media policies and occasionally content to be published on external channels to their workload is difficult, but just as it is good to make them part of the creative process, you also should present the results just like to other stakeholders to help them see that their time investment is worth it.

Social media managers and strategists, what has your experience been working with in-house counsel on social media programs. Are there any other tips, best practices and resources to share?

Image credit: Lois Geller

This post was originally published on my agency’s blog Beyond the Hype. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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