There’s a vast gulf that often separates social media teams and their lawyers — but there are ways to overcome it, said Rich Pesce, senior manager social media Capitol One, and June Casalmir, social media counsel at Sprint during a session at the SXSW Interactive Festival. The law increasingly affects social media and the Internet, from the FTC Disclosure rules about payments to bloggers, to National Labor Relations Board decisions prohibiting firing an employee for Facebook postings or tweets in certain cases, to the epic recent struggles involving the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. Social media ninjas that used to spend their days being creative now find themselves in hours-long meeting with lawyers — as is the case with Ford’s social media Scott Monty who tweeted “In a 2.5 hour meeting with our legal department. Painful but necessary collaboration.”
Pesce and Casalmir used to work together to bridge that gap between social media managers and the legal team, while jointly formulating social media strategy for Sprint, a tech corporation at the forefront of social media that used it effectively in the successful fight against the AT&T and T-Mobile merger. During their session, the pair shared three approaches to make working with the lawyers a little less painful and intimidating, which they called the “Three B’s.”
- Bridge: Build relationships. Whether you like it or not, social media mavens are going to be spending more time getting legal review and approval — and lawyers are going to need to learn to use the power of social media to transform companies. Take your lawyer to lunch or coffee — one of Pesce’s first lunches when he moved from Sprint to Capital One was with his legal counterpart. Try to find areas of common interest. Two of the social media manager’s biggest responsibilities — crisis management and improving customer experiences — are also legal team goals. So open a dialogue about these shared responsibilities. Also try to understand that a lot of lawyers are also creative and can provide valuable insight and ideas to your campaigns.
- Brown bag: Set up brown bag training from your lawyers. One of the best ways to work more easily and effectively with legal is to set up brown bag training lunches where your lawyers teach you and your team about basic legal guidelines for social media. The more informed you are about the law, the better you can focus on those facts and strategies that are most critical in assessing legal risk for social media campaigns and gaining legal approval, which leads to shorter, more effective and productive meetings with your lawyers. That way you can know the key facts relevant to making the legal decision and come to the table with a feasible solution before engaging legal, and thereby get a fast answer from the lawyers.
- Badge: Take a cue from Foursquare and award badges to lawyers that master your domain. As important as it is for you to understand the basic legal issues of social media, it is even more important for the lawyers to understand the technology that drives your success. If they do not understand your technology, your goals or the rewards, you are much more likely to get a “no” when you seek approval. Lawyers can offer much better insights, exercise better judgment, and actually get creative and add real value when they understand what it is that you actually do. Don’t make the lawyer your last stop in the approval process — get them involved early and they can bring good outside perspectives and value in protecting your brand.
If you use these approaches, your interactions with legal will not only be a lot less painful, they will probably become more rewarding.
This post is by Stephen J. Easley, vice president for government affairs and general counsel of Heartland Networks, a wireless-infrastructure company, and an entertainment attorney representing clients such as the estate of Buddy Holly on intellectual property issues. He is attending his 26th SXSW conference.
Image credit: Geoff Livingston