How Your Legal Team Might be Making Social Media MORE Risky For Your Company

April 4, 2015

They mean well, our corporate legal counsel. They really do. They are paid to protect the company from risk. And when they see something new and risky on the horizon–like this social media thing–they react. They stamp it with a big red “NO.” They know that some employees are going to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing. They’ve read horror stories of mistakes at other companies. Well, that isn’t going to happen here. Not under their watch. But they don’t understand that they are actually increasing the risk of a social media crisis.

Yes, that’s right. The lawyers are making social media MORE risky.

“How can that be?” you might ask. (And even if you didn’t ask that, I will go ahead and answer it.)

To understand how risk works in social media, let’s play out the consequences of what the lawyers are prescribing:

  • To reduce risk, your lawyer recommends that you stay off social media. Or you reduce it markedly. Or you allow only certain people to use it. Or you require extensive approvals before anything is posted.
  • Because you are not using social media very much, you have few friends. You are relatively anonymous. You don’t have significant social connections.
  • When something goes wrong at your company, people complain about you on social media. They call you out. They demand to hear your side of the story.
  • Because you have no strong social media presence, you are forced to trot out your friendly PR person.
  • Social media devours your PR person for lunch and spits out the bones, because they don’t trust that person in the suit.
  • No one in social media sticks up for your PR person because no one knows him.
  • No one in social media sticks up for your company because you have no friends or connections.
  • With no network of defenders, folks escalate the crisis because you are an easy target.
  • The crisis ends up much worse than if you have a social following that has your back.

Maybe that is a bad enough scenario that you won’t let the legal team push you around anymore. But it gets worse. When the crisis happens, you won’t be able to respond. All the rules that stopped you from causing a problem in social media will prevent you from fixing one, too. You are a sitting duck.

Now, you reach a new level of hell, because the social intelligentsia start criticizing you for not responding. The story morphs from “Company screws up” to “Company screws up and doesn’t care.”

So why are you letting your legal team decide this for you? They think they are reducing risk but they are just deciding which risk to run. I think they are choosing the wrong risk to run.

Now they don’t see this because they believe that social media is optional. They believe that we don’t have to do it, so therefore, if we don’t do it then we will reduce risk.

But it is actually the opposite. You really have to do it. So, not doing it makes you stand out–in a bad way.

You don’t need to listen to your lawyers. They are smart, but they aren’t in charge of the business. All you need is an executive to say, “I accept the risk.” Those are magic words that make the lawyers stand down. They gave their advice, the client ignored it, so whatever happens is not their fault. What they will never know is that ignoring their advice is probably the least riskiest path for the company in a world where engaging in social media with the public and with customers is no longer optional

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