By Lisa Schievelbein
For many communicators, Legal is a slayer of dreams.
I’ve heard this (paraphrased) complaint countless times across six years of CEC member conversations. The source of the conflict varies, but the storyline is usually the same: Legal vetoes communication ideas that depart from a “command and control” approach to corporate communication. It probably goes without saying, then, that social media has been a virtual Celebrity Deathmatch between the functions.
That said, we’re seeing some promising signs of a relationship thaw. Exhibit A: last week, CEC members joined their Legal and Marketing brethren at a panel discussion about cross-functional collaboration in social media. The 90-minute session was co-hosted by two of CEC’s sister programs (GCR and MLC) and headlined by Wal-Mart, Allstate, and Coca-Cola. Despite some differences of opinion, the overall consensus was clear: these three functions need to work together to manage the legal landmines of social media WHILE aggressively using it to the company’s advantage in engaging stakeholders. Here are 4 tips specifically for Comms in negotiating this balance with Legal:
1. Listen and Learn: In any negotiation, you become far more persuasive if you truly understand the other person’s perspective. So, before barging in with a business case for social media, initiate an open dialogue with your legal team about their concerns. (After all, would you want to be the guy who gets a high-profile lawsuit plunked on his desk?) The panelists echoed this point: a little humility here can go a long way.
2. Mitigate Risk: Once you understand Legal’s concerns, you can assuage them by suggesting related risk management tactics. For example, Coca-Cola developed highly nuanced guidelines that clarify the different social media “rules” for company spokespeople versus the everyday employee. (CEC members can check out our collection of employee social media policies here.)
3. Reframe: Beyond addressing the risks, help Legal understand the specific upside of the social media approach you’re proposing. Among GC-friendly benefits, you might convey social media’s association with employee productivity, cost-savings, and preservation of institutional knowledge. (CEC members can use this customizable business case to “sell” social media in line with these benefits, plus more.)
4. Revisit: Once your social media initiative gets off the ground (perhaps in a more restricted form than you’d like), be sure to keep Legal in the loop on its early returns. According to Allstate’s Lizzie Schreier, a bit of “safe” success can lower their guard and give you more license to expand your efforts. You can check out Lizzie’s full story on MLC’s blog, Wide Angle.
CEC members, we’ll have the replay for this event online next week—follow us on Twitter to get the notice and a quick link.
For now, let’s hear from you. Is Legal your (social media) friend or foe?