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Legal’s role in social media: Where do you draw the line?

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Courtroom detailThis isn’t a new issue. Legal’s influence and command over PR issues has been felt for years.
I experienced this first-hand during my time at a international professional services firm. From time to time we’d face public scrutiny around an audit or tax issue for a client. As the issue became more prominent in the communities we served, negative public opinion swelled. Yet, all too often, legal’s response was “we cannot comment.” Now, legal was just doing their job: Manage risk and protect the organization. But, I continue to ask one simple question:

Where do you draw the line?

Yes, companies need to protect themselves. But, at what cost? And now with the social tools available to employees, management, customers and other influencers, it’s an even bigger risk (in legal’s eyes)–and an even bigger opportunity cost from a reputation management standpoint.

Case in point: Some of you may remember this exchange on Twitter last Saturday as I tweeted poolside at my son/daughter’s swimming lessons:

  1. arikhanson
    arikhanson Just got asked to stop tweeting poolside at swimming lessons. Really ymca? I understand no phones in locker rooms but this is a little much
  2. Sonny Gill
    sonnygill @arikhanson Ha, what the heck. Is your tweeting disrupting their practice or something?
  3. Heather Whaling
    PRtini @arikhanson really?!? What damage do they think you’re causing?
  4. Damon Manetta
    dmanetta @arikhanson probably because kids are in a less dressed state than t-ball game? Agree it sounds heavy handed tho, no dif than the beach.

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Without knowing the full reason behind why I couldn’t tweet poolside (the YMCA rep never told me why, just that I couldn’t do it per their policy), I’m guessing it’s a risk issue. But, again, at what point does risk outweigh brand and PR opportunities? In this case, it might be folks taking photos of their kids at swimming lessons at the YMCA and sharing on Facebook (great word-of-mouth and increased brand exposure for the YMCA–WOM they don’t pay for, by the way).

I tend to think there needs to be more give-and-take by organizations. Keep in mind, legal’s not making these decisions. They’re in the same boat as PR pros. They get paid to provide valuable counsel. It’s management that’s making the final call.

So, it’s incumbent upon us, as PR/brand/marketing professionals to make a strong case for a more balanced approach. There’s no doubt we should protect our companies, their assets and the intellectual capital they’ve worked so hard to build. But, our organization’s reputations are also at stake here. And, word of mouth through social platforms plays a key role these days.

We need to have these crucial conversations with legal and management. We need to make the case loud and clear for effective online reputation management.

That’s my two cents. What do you think?

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Legal’s role in social media: Where do you draw the line?

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