Among the interesting programs at the Legal Tech 2010 conference in New York this week, was panel discussion tackling social media at companies.  Three attorneys with significant in-house experience (American Express, Lincoln Center, Kraft), all took turns describing how social media is here to stay — and how companies can take advantage of it. 

First off, the moderator noted that people are likely talking about your company; but if you’re not on social media, you may not realize it until it has spread like wildfire. Example #1: "United Breaks Guitars" a viral video that has sparked sequels, copycats, and lots of publicity. The video, in case you missed it, is as follows:

The first speaker, Lesley Rosenthal (Lincoln Center) emphasized that while most companies view social media through the prism of labor & employment issues, there are many other issues that are implicated. Among them: Copyright, Trademark, Consumer Protection, Lobbying Laws, Raffles and Privacy.  That’s not to minimize employment law issues; there are plenty of things to consider there as well: trade secrets, confidentiality, harassment, discrimination, job listings/OFCCP, background checks, and state laws that protect leisure-time activities. 

Another speaker (Ted Banks, who recently left Kraft after 32 years) described how a total ban on social media for employees only leads to resentment  and invites violations.  He suggested that companies have an opportunity to engage employees who are creative; taking advantage of that can work within a corporate framework.

How? But making sure that the use of social media is consistent with the values of a company.  Training personnel as to proper use is crucial to its success. (After all, when e-mail was introduced, we trained employees on how to use it; for social media, there should be something similar).  Limits can be set but just saying no doesn’t work. 

The final speaker, Mark Bisard, a cyberlawyer from AmEx spoke passionately that he viewed social media as something that companies can no longer avoid.  Companies can influence the discussion (and realize that they will lose total control over their message) but that if companies fail to do so, they will lose their influence altogether.  He suggested that employee productivity and efficiency can still be measured.  And for those concerned about measurable statistics, he suggested using the "Net Promoter" site

He closed with this view: Your company’s new home page is Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. You better embrace it because your customers are there (and your competition). 

While a lot of what they said wasn’t particularly new, the fact that the message is no longer coming from attorneys, but from the clients themselves, is an indication that social media is no longer on the fringe.

Developing a social media policy and practice should be part of many companies’ overall strategy for 2010.

(To follow all the developments at Legal Tech, you can search on Twitter for the hashtag #ltny.)