Unraveling the Mystery of Social Media Law

Scales of Justice
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Numerous helpful resources were discussed at SMCLA’s Tuesday night panel, “Cover Your Back! Legal Protection for Social Media & Bloggers.” The conversation was so fruitful, it continued on Twitter through the next day.

For bloggers, social media managers and marketing/PR folks looking for a one-stop-shop, keep-at-your-fingertips legal guide, you may want to turn to this comprehensive gem…

Navigating Social Media Legal Risks: Safeguarding Your Business by Robert McHale with Eric Garulay is for anyone who wants to understand current laws and legal thinking around business, marketing and engagement in the social media sphere.

While social media persistently evolves, the laws that apply to these digital domains have lagged behind, McHale emphasizes. As a result, he says, “Businesses will need to be vigilant – and respond swiftly – to new legal challenges arising from social media, as the law governing this space continues to unfold almost on a daily basis.”

McHale, a corporate lawyer whose practice focuses on IP, trademark protection, data security, and digital, mobile and social media matters, performs a superb balancing act with this book: mapping out where federal and state law already has established rules for social media and what the uncharted legal territory looks like.

He presents perceptive discussions of recent and ongoing cases, their potential repercussions for business, and how – without much legal precedent – companies can use policies and corporate governance to protect themselves.

McHale does an excellent job of delineating the types of issues businesses (and bloggers and PR/marketing agencies) need to know, including:

  • social advertising
  • trademark protection and brandjacking
  • employee social media use and misuse
  • endorsements, contests and online promotions
  • user-generated content
  • privacy and security compliance
  • social media policies
  • plus a discussion of the status of virtual goods

Depending on your business, you can read the entire book or study a specific chapter that concerns you. (When something is covered by a different chapter, McHale helpfully references where you’ll find the information.)

Chapter-by-Chapter Guide to Legal Issues

Each chapter highlights a legal area of interest to businesses, no matter what stage their social media program is in – fledging or seasoned. Note and Legal Insight sidebars provide additional context. Chapters conclude with a summary of key points in a “Dos and Don’ts” chart to further guide businesses on the nuances of the laws and best practices. Endnotes supplement with links to case law, news stories, and other reference materials.

Sixteen appendices provide the full text of the laws discussed in the book. (My one, very minor quibble is that dates aren’t included in this section; you will find them, however, when laws are discussed in the main sections of the book.)

McHale is especially detailed in describing existing laws, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the FTC Act, copyright and defamation acts, and labor-relations governance.

The book deals exclusively with U.S. law, though, as McHale states, the most widely used social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ – are based in the United States, as are the majority of users, so understanding how the U.S. government and courts view social media practice is essential.

McHale predicts the next few years will bring plenty more cases “as courts (and legislatures) wrestle with issues such as publicity rights, privacy, data security, online tracking, behavioral advertising and geolocation marketing, mobile payments, and ownership rights of social media accounts and followers.”

“Social media presents unique challenges to businesses trying to manage their litigation risks,” he notes. “Although social media might appear too risky for many companies protective of their brand and market positioning, it need not be so with a fuller appreciation of the laws in this space.”

Start with this book and follow McHale’s regular updates on social media legal matters on Twitter or Facebook.

Book Review: “The Social Media Strategist” Offers a Deft Guide to Corporate Social Media Success – Guest Post by Vickie Bates

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Gets Social: The Social Media Strategist Offers a Deft Guide to Corporate Social Media Success

By Vickie Bates

Christopher Barger’s new book bridges two of the biggest gaps in the proliferating social media category: strategy and how to manage an effective social program in a large organization.

“Demands and expectations of big companies – and even laws governing their behavior – are different from those for individuals or small shops,” Barger notes in the introduction to The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out.

This is welcome insight for anyone working for corporations, institutions and other large organizations. Far too many popular social media tomes miss this basic distinction: “If you haven’t been inside a company or organization – if you don’t know corporate culture and bureaucracy, or have no experience navigating internal minefields – then you don’t know how to make social media work inside a company.”

Barger is just the person to tackle this subject from the insider’s perspective, having led early social media efforts at IBM and built the social program from the ground up at General Motors – two of the largest organizations going.

The Social Media Strategist provides a blueprint for communications and marketing professionals spearheading social programs in large organizations. It’s also for PR and marketing firms with large corporate clients.

The book walks you, chapter by chapter, through the seven elements required in an effective organizational social media program, including:

  1. The executive champion – the leader who secures adoption of the vision, backs the program with budget and headcount, and stops the spread of parallel programs.
  2. Organizational “ownership” of social media – and how to bring HR, Customer Service, IT, PR and Marketing to the table to collaborate.
  3. The social media evangelist – not a “rock star,” explains Barger, but “a business leader who is equally adroit inside your walls as outside – someone with the brand not just to represent it online but also to build social media into a business practice within that company.”
  4. Tangible metrics to track progress and effectiveness – solid information about establishing baseline metrics and creating, implementing and measuring social media activities that have a positive financial impact.
  5. Partnering with the legal department – beyond Federal Trade Commission guidelines and regulation of online activities to understanding the legal nuances of your own industry, vetting social media policy, developing a genuine partnership with lawyers, supporting their learning curve, and even getting the legal team to engage in online communities!
  6. Social media policy – what to include in policies and usage guides.
  7. Educating employees – an in-depth discussion about training, from policy adherence to teaching staff social media best practices to dispersing expertise throughout the organizational functions.

The book doesn’t really explore using social media for internal communications and offers minimal practical tips for gaining buy-in for functional ownership of the social media program if there are disagreements within your organization. But these could be topics for entire books and are minor quibbles when viewed against the strategic perspective of the whole.

Barger shares strategies for starting small – taking advantage of social media’s ability to target and engage customers where they live and in the local communities where you do business. Plus, there’s an intriguing chapter, entitled “Dealbreakers,” which provides astute advice for both organizations and practitioners when it comes to hiring or being hired into a social media team.

Social in Serious Situations

Barger’s expertise orchestrating large-scale social media programs is never more
apparent than in the last two chapters on crisis communications.

“When All Hell Breaks Lose” shares six case studies, including self-generated social media crises, customer service issues, and how to combat campaigns against your organization.

The final section is a full-chapter case study of the social media communications
program Barger and his team implemented at GM, announcing the company’s
Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. You couldn’t ask for a better roadmap for a social crisis communications plan than this chapter, which also focuses on what brands must do in the aftermath.

“Reputational recovery and repair requires follow-up. Lots of it,” he emphasizes. The people representing large companies need to remain in the social space, acting like human beings. They need to ask lots of questions, and, above all, listen to feedback.

Barger gets – and has worked inside – organizations that “cannot behave quite as openly as they might wish.” His experiences offer tremendous insight to those engaged in creating corporate programs that audiences want to be part of.

“Ultimately,” Barger concludes of organizational social media, “it still is about
relationships, humanizing, and people liking your brand or organization because they like your people. Humanizing your brand does no good for you unless people like the humans they meet from your brand.”



Vickie Bates - @nobadlanguage

Vickie  Bates is a communications consultant specializing in social media and employee communications. She is also a member of SMCLA. Her blog, No Bad Language, focuses on great writing and ‘no bad language.’ Follow her on Twitter and add her blog to your RSS feed!

Book Review: “Empowered”

Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business

Thanks to Forrester and @bethggwaz for sending SMCLA a few copies of the newly released book:  Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business.  We’ve actually had this book for a month now and our copy is already dog-eared with post-its and margin notes.  It couldn’t come at a better time, really…with our October event that explores “Social Media Horror Stories” and ponders what to do in the event that your brand gets caught up in a “situation”.

The book is targeted at large corporations who aren’t quite sure how they should get in on this whole “social media” thing.  It lays out a thorough definition of what a “HERO” (Highly Empowered Resourceful Operative) is and what she does (influence peers, deliver groundswell customer service, empower customers and amplify fans) before finally telling you how to leverage a HERO to power the business.    It’s in the final third of the book that the real nuggets of wisdom are shared:  how to manage & lead, helping HEROs innovate & collaborate, and keeping them (and you) safe.

The book is brought to you by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler.  You may recognize Josh from his previous work:  “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” .   Similar to “Groundswell”, this book  is topical and informative and goes to great detail to explain how social media and big business can work.  My personal favorite showcases Dooce – Heather Armstrong (http://dooce.com) and her accurate and unfavorable portrayal of Maytag (as an example of the power of an influencer and why you need to foster HEROs/influencers in your own organization).

Later in the book, Bernoff and Schadler go on to explain one of my favorite concepts:  “customer service = marketing” and that the two organizations should be closely aligned if not merged.  Now…take a step back and read that again.  They’re suggesting that two completely different sides of the house get in bed together (and it makes sense).  I won’t go into detail here, but I will say that if you read the book , it makes sense.  People are talking about your service/brand and they aren’t gonna be happy until you reach out to them.  It’s marketing/PR/customer service all in one.  If you aren’t aligned to handle this (and within 24 hours btw) you’re in for a Dooce sized headache.

One of the other MAJOR benefits of getting your hands on this book are the numerous graphs, stats, and points supported directly by the vast amounts of data being crunched over by our friends at Forrester.  Typically, access to this data would cost you (or your organization) an arm and a leg.  With the purchase of this affordable book, the data is all yours!

The book has a website that you may find interesting.  Head on over and check it out here:  http://www.forrester.com/empowered Here’s what they have to say about the book:

As you’d expect from Forrester and the coauthor of the bestselling book Groundswell, this book is full of tools and hard data. Empowered includes:

  • The four-step IDEA process to transform your customer-facing service, marketing, and mobile applications.
  • Ways your IT department can become the trusted partner for your company’s employee- and business-led technology innovation.
  • The key techniques for collaboration systems that take off, instead of fizzling on the launch pad.
  • 25 case studies and dozens more examples from companies in every imaginable industry, from retail to business services.

If you’re an IT, marketing and strategy, or tech industry leader wondering how to get more creative solutions out of your team, this book is for you.

We’ll be giving away 2 copies of this book at our upcoming event on 10-26 at Wokcano in Santa Monica.  Please join SMCLA at this event and put in your business card to get a chance to get a must-have social media business book .