Social media is definitely a two-edged sword, and having a conversation with a social media law specialist is one way to manage its potential downsides and liabilities. So, how do you start the conversation to make sure you are protecting your business, and its reputation, from a legal standpoint when engaging in social media content efforts?
Here are some important tips and considerations:
Starting the conversation
According to Andrew Singer, Esq., companies should develop a Social Media Action Plan that, “establishes and addresses how the company will utilize social media for marketing and brand recognition purposes.” But before you have any conversation, he advises that you do your homework. Gather your executive team, and all the current and potential social media players, and compile a background document.
Social media background document
Here are the obvious questions to ask when preparing your background document. Having this information on hand, and in advance of creating your social media content, will help you identify potential issues that you’ll need to plan for:
- How is the company currently using social media?
- What platforms are being used?
- What content or material is being presented?
- Who is involved in generating and approving content?
- What company policies are already in place that may be applicable here?
- Who has overall responsibility?
- What might the company do that it is not currently doing?
- What is the competition doing?
- What boundaries have been set for inappropriate content (including obscene or vulgar language and discriminatory remarks)?
The above questions fall largely into the area of managing risk from employee actions. (For a more detailed discussion see Social Media Policy: Protection For Your Business.)
Risk from employer actions
There is more to a Social Media Action Plan than managing what your employees post to social media sites. Andrew Singer points out that companies must also be aware of employer actions, such as the application of the National Labor Relations Act to the right of non-unionized workplace employees to openly discuss the terms and conditions of their employment in social media.
Further, certain states have “off-duty conduct laws” that may, for example, prohibit employers from taking adverse employment action against employees based on their off-duty use of lawful recreational activities, which may include blogging and the use of social media.
Obviously, this is a complex and developing area that requires constant attention and preparation.
Opportunity for strategic thinking on social media
While considering how to manage the social media downside, use the opportunity to manage the upside, as well.
For example, once you’ve highlighted risk management from the employee and employer side, there are strategic considerations that can better focus your thinking about social media and make your legal conversation more productive, help anticipate future needs, and help you to think more strategically about social media.
Here is a checklist that every robust social media program must eventually consider. It can yield important insights when combined with the background document being prepared for your social media legal conversation. Reviewing this list can also help you anticipate potential social media issues.
Social media strategic opportunity checklist
1. Social media is not an end in itself. Define your business purpose for social media. Examples include building sales, building brand image, and building customer engagement.
2. Determine how you will track and measure social media performance.
3. Define your audience. Who is your target? You may have multiple target audiences that may require different social media.
4. What will you say? What content will you offer? Why should anyone care?
5. What skills will you need? Journalism? Humor?
6. Is your website ready to serve as a hub for all social media?
7. What secondary benefits can you derive from social media (e.g., competitive surveillance)?
8. Do you have a process in place to evaluate new social media and to drop the old?
9. Are you disciplined to focus on only the most effective social media?
10. Do you know the requirements and ideal environments for each platform?
11. How do you maintain your social media knowledge and skills? Who do you follow?
12. What social media management tools should you consider?
13. How do you integrate social media into your total marketing program?
- Commit to a social media action plan that addresses legal issues from both an employee and employer perspective.
- Prepare for your first legal conversation by creating a social media background document.
- As you prepare your social media background document, take the opportunity to address broad strategic issues.
Author’s note: This blog post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice (I am not a lawyer, nor am I associated with any law firm).
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