I recently attended a social media event sponsored by the Boston Business Journal, which featured a panel discussion titled Social Capital: Boston Superstarts Share Their Tips, Tricks, Strategies & Tactics for Winning Big in Social Media.
When it was over, a line from Warren Zevon's 1978 "Lawyers Guns and Money" kind of captured my take away from the event:
"Send lawyers, guns and money, the s#&t has hit the fan."
Before I explain myself, let me review the panelists:
- AJ Gerritson, Founding Partner, 451 Marketing, @ajgerritson (moderator)
- Michael R. Hall, Director of New Media, NESN, @mrhall
- Jennie Moore, Director of Communications, Fisher College, @fishercollege and
- Robert A. Bertsche, Partner, Prince Lobel Tye LLP, @rbertsche
Each was very good and brought a different perspective on social media, spanning business, sports/enetertainment, education and legal. The panel covered many of your typical topics including best tools, content development, analytics and conversion. But it was the last panelist and his area of expertise that had the most impact by far.
To date, social media has been kind of like the wild west; wide open spaces, people staking claims, people shooting from the hip, and little to no laws or lawmen protecting the public. Well, based on Robert Bertsche's discussion, all that is changing, and fast. Over the past year, there have been some well-publicized defamation suits as a result of libelous tweets. Courtney Love has been sued twice for her tweets, while even more recently, singers Sinead O'Connor and Miley Cyrus got into a Twitter spat that has led to O'Connor threating to sue Cyrus for making fun of O'Connor's prior mental health issues.
Now you may say that this kind of activity doesn't occur in every day business, so it's not relevant to me. That's true, hopefully you aren't regularly slamming your competitors, customers, partners or employees on social media -that would be business suicide. But you or your employees could very easily be violating things like copyright laws without even knowing it. Things like posting third party company logos, images and more without permission could be putting you at risk, a trend that more and more companies are falling into unknowningly.
The panel's message was very clear. If you don't have a social media policy in place that has been vetted with legal counsel, then you should implement one quickly. Of course the concern is that if you let the lawyers control/review everything before it makes its way onto a social channel, you won't be timely or say anything of interest, which means nobody will listen. The trick is to know what are the third rail areas to stay away from and manage your effort to a level of risk that is both legally and culturally acceptable to the organization.
So how do you go about doing this? Here are some links to some sites/articles that provide definitive and practical advice on this subject.
- NLRB General Counsel's Office issues four advice memoranda providing guidance on
social media policies
- Legal Requirements for Social Media Marketing and User Generated Content
- Legal concepts every social media marketer should know: Part I — Consumer privacy
- Legal concepts every social media marketer should know: Part II — Rules of the road
for online advertising
- Legal concepts every social media marketer should know: Part III -- Use of third-party images, graphics, and content
- Legal concepts every social media marketer should know: Part IV - User Generated Content (Content Treasure Trove v. Legal Pandora's Box)
Do you have a risk management plan in place for your social media activities?