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Get the Lawyers Involved – Now.

July 14, 2008

Upper management and the legal department can kill your social media initiative.  The new world of transparency and perceived “loss of control” that the use of social media brings can (quite frankly), scare upper management and folks in the legal department.   And many a well thought out social media initiative has come to a screeching halt in the 11th hour due to not having buy-in of these two important constituencies. 

Although one can argue that companies never really had control of their message – only control of how said message was published – many companies don’t understand that the customers have long since taken the published message and added to it, commented on it, and maybe even ridiculed it.  It just didn’t have as big an impact because it wasn’t as immediate or broadly distributed as it now is due to the web.    

Regardless of the many examples where policies of transparency have benefited companies in ways previously unthought-of, when it gets down to being transparent many executives and legal departments still don’t understand, or they understand but are afraid to let go.  “Allow customers or employees in our community to post negative things about our company or product?”  A resounding “YES!”   Guess what…?  They have been, and will be doing it anyway, in places you don’t know about!  And therefore you will have no way of engaging them in conversation, gather very valuable (albeit sometimes uncomfortable) feedback or product suggestions being provided, respond with accurate information, or make use of the product suggestions.  You will have lost a very valuable open communication channel.  Bring open communication into your venue, and benefit from it.

So you, Mr. or Ms. Community Manager or Director or Project Manager completely understand how your company can benefit from a policy of transparency as related to the deployment of social media.  You “get it”.  However, your executives and legal department may not.  You need to get them involved early on in the process.  Educate them.  Help them understand how a policy of transparency can help the company.  Give examples of where transparency has provided great benefits to the companies.  Build your business case.  Help them understand it is not as scary as it may sound.  Help them “get it”.  Don’t go to them late in the process just for approval of your Terms of Service policy.  Get them involved early as you define your overall Social Media Strategy, Business Goals and Objectives, Community Participation Guidelines, Membership Acquisition and Retention Strategy, Programming Schedule, Content Plan, etc. 

This approach may be more work, but the mitigating the risk of the plug being pulled on your social media initiative right before the finish line is well worth the extra effort.

[This post orginially appeared at www.mzinga.com.  It has been reposted with slight modification by permission.]

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