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Social Media Legal Risks

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Interesting article on Mark Grossman’s Tech Law Blog this past week covering social networking and the legal implications for businesses using social tools in their marketing and customer service.

He very rightly points out that the legal risks that social media entail are a poor excuse for avoiding involvement. As he says, “You can choose to embrace it now or wait until your company is the last one in.”

It certainly makes sense to hire an attorney experienced in social tech (and other tech tools) if you’re concerned about social tech risks.

Laws in the area still lag behind the reality, as is the case with most new technology, which is why hiring a specialist makes more sense than going to your everyday law firm or even relying on in-house counsel.

The best use of legal help here, as in so many places, is before you dive in. Craft a corporate policy on acceptable social media activity and content, and have it reviewed and expanded upon by your legal specialist.

That said, and I know this will make Mark and other lawyers uncomfortable, be sure the policy is simple enough that it doesn’t scare your team away from actively participating. They should be aware of – and follow – your company-wide policies regarding any content for public consumption, and a process for regular review should be in place before your first posts. But don’t make the language scary and don’t make the document too long. (I’m partial to the idea that if you wouldn’t discuss something openly with your Mom or your boss, don’t post it, but that’s not a good rule for every situation, particularly in fields with regulatory compliance issues.)

Be careful with other people’s intellectual property and be sure to cite all sources. Don’t post something as fact if you’re not sure of its veracity. Even such buttoned-up publications as The New York Times have mistaken the echo chamber of the Web for actual fact. Don’t make the problem worse by repeating info you can’t source.

Mark’s article goes into more detail on advertising, spam, and other areas, and I’ll leave it to him and other lawyers to provide more complete guidance, but at a minimum your takeaway should be:

  1. There are risks with empowering members of your firm beyond the marketing team to participate in social media.
  2. Those risks are manageable; they are not an excuse for sitting on the sideline.
  3. Get specialized legal help in any areas you’re not fully comfortable.

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