How to keep lawyers from killing your social media mojo
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Shakespeare’s words, not mine.
Let me start by saying that I think killing lawyers is wrong. But, if you work in social media for large organizations with lots of guidelines and regulations, you’re at least justified in wishing they would go away.
You come up with a great idea for a social campaign, and they destroy every bit of the creativity because it’s not enough in line with brand standards. You craft a timely, empathetic response to a customer’s question on Facebook and they hold it up for approvals, suck all the personality out of it, and finally give you an edited version that sounds like a press release to post three days too late.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With some perspective, research and good ol’ empathy, you can get along with the lawyers. Your long term social media efforts may even be better for it.
1. Understand where they’re coming from.
At Useful Social Media’s mid-June Corporate Social Media Summit in NYC, a variety of big brand social media folks expressed different levels of frustration with their legal processes. Panel moderator Rohit Bhargava summed up the core of the issue and the inherent inherent conflict we need to understand.
- Social media marketers/communicators have to assume some risk to be effective. Assuming risk is part of our job.
- Lawyers are supposed to eliminate any risk. Avoiding risk is their job.
So, when they’re disrupting your social mojo, realize that you’re disrupting their lawerly mojo. They’re really just doing their job.
2. Write your own policies, or at least translate them.
At the same conference, Emily Berg, SVP for Social Media at Bank of America made the point that policies are typically written to protect “the company”, but to be effective in social media, you need policies that protect the employee and, ultimately, support the customer.
My first working relationship with lawyers spoiled me. I was managing digital strategy for the Massachusetts governor’s office as social media was hitting the scene and we pretty much wrote the rules from scratch. The lawyers I worked with really viewed themselves as public servants and, as such, wanted to craft policies in a way that truly supported citizen participation in their government. In the corporate world, it usually isn’t this way. Many lawyers think the best way to protect the company and it’s brand is to narrow what’s permissible and restrict access.
Instead of leaving the policy-writing to them, write the policies yourself. Then, let them challenge and modify what you’ve laid out only as absolutely necessary. And don’t start from scratch. There are plenty of corporate, government and non-profit social policies out there to borrow from.
3. Question if you always have to involve them.
While I don’t advocate “ignoring” your lawyers, it could be possible you’re including them too much.
Anna Ketting, Social Media Manager at Air France KLM, articulated a great example of this. I’ll do my best here to relay it.
She told a story about a departing colleague who gave the team blue and white M&Ms as a goodbye gift (KLM colors). They thought it would be fun to put them all in a container and have fans guess how many there were. I believe there was a prize involved. They got some great engagement around it. Fun, light-touch stuff.
I had to ask, “How did you just do that so easily? Did you not have to involve your lawyers and coordinate with the M&Ms and Mars corporation lawyers and ensure your mutual brand lawyers were on board?” She simply replied, “No. I didn’t even think to involve lawyers. Why would I? It was just a fun contest in social.”
Didn’t even think to involve lawyers. I like it. After all, if you ask your lawyers to weigh in then they have to. So, ask yourself if you really even have to ask in the first place. You obviously don’t want to do anything that will really put your organization at risk, but sometimes, as the saying goes, “it is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.”
Find the Balance
In all of these situations, like with most challenges in social media, it’s about balance—between risk and reward, timeliness and process, confidence to move forward and getting full consensus. So the next time your lawyers are driving you crazy, take a deep breath and try to figure out what you can do to make the situation better for all of you, before you go all Shakespeare on them.