Coordinated effort from the top down needed

Social media is a unique and challenging proposition for a company as it creates a new risk profile that must be thoroughly understood.

A lack of understanding, planning, control and administrative coordination within the company are some of the reasons why social media is often not leveraged successfully.

Aparna M. Dave is Senior Counsel in the Intellectual Property Section for Wells Fargo Legal Group. A speaker at the marcus evans 2nd Annual Social Legal Risk and Strategy Conference being held in San Francisco on July 19-21, Dave believes that the risks in social media are similar to those in traditional marketing and the workplace but with some added risk.

“Shared risks range from copyright and trademark infringement to disclosure of trade secrets; discovery and evidentiary challenges to ethical considerations under federal and state rules; use of social media for recruiting and hiring to union organizing.

“But what makes social media unique and challenging and often scary for companies is that it creates a new risk profile: technology is constantly evolving, the laws are changing, information can spread rapidly and to a large audience, and there may be lack of understanding, planning, control and administrative coordination within the company. All these factors often force a company to change the way it communicates with its employees and the public and may cause it to overreact and misapply traditional rules and enforcement."

When it comes to whether organizations should have absolute control over what information is divulged in social media, Dave says it depends on the nature of the business.

What fits for one business may not work for another. For example, companies in highly regulated industries such as pharma, finance or healthcare may have to consider more centralized control over content to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

“On the other hand, some companies’ business models may allow for a high level of autonomy to their individual business departments but they should be careful that this does not result in disorganized social media efforts and an incoherent and inconsistent corporate message,” she explains.

Dave recommends a more balanced approach and could work through a coordinated effort from the top of the company down through its employees.

“This can take a fair amount of time, training and monitoring but it can provide an effective way to be involved in social media. The keys to this approach are to have a knowledgeable social media team develop a clear and consistent social media policy or guidelines and then train and empower employees to make social media decisions at the department level.”

Whatever direction the company decides to take, it should ensure that it has a solid organizational model in place with defined teams, roles, stakeholders and processes in place before it sets out in the social media space, she concludes.

The marcus evans 2nd Social Media Legal Risk & Strategy Conference will be held on July 19-21 in San Francisco, CA.