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.) 

  • That United Breaks Guitars video is a flat out classic and a clear statement that every business needs to be serious about tracking, google alerts, and having a social media presence and strategy.

  • Thanks for posting – I didn’t catch this panel at Legal Tech so it is nice to see the recap.
    I am most in agreement with Ted about social media presenting an opportunity to companies to engage their creative employees and let them flourish. This requires clear guidelines that are flexible enough to allow for employees to be artists in what they do.
    Seth Godin describes this really well in his new book Linchpin (if you haven’t checked it out yet, it is a must read). His general point is that corporate work trains obedience, being just good enough, and waiting for orders. To thrive in today’s world we need employees who are artists. They contribute value, connect to customers in ways that are human, and can make a real impact that propels the company. These people are linchpins.
    Rigid guidelines choke the life out of such employees. Demanding metrics over artistry mechanizes the processes, makes it sub par, and outsourceable. It’s why companies like Apple and Google, the leaders in business, thrive and are adored. Other companies say they want to be like Apple or Google, but this just means they want to be loved while producing mediocre results.
    Any social media policy should be a guideline. Your employees are smart enough to know what they should and shouldn’t do (if not – get new employees). A good legal department balances the need of the company to have a policy in place they can point to if something goes wrong, with the need for employees to be free enough to create without fear of censorship, backlash, or worse. It is a risky game, but one with great rewards if done right.