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How do you overcome legal obstacles to social media programs?

Many companies seem to have legal departments that put up huge barriers to adopting communities and other social media programs that include employees, customers, prospects and even detractors. In fact some put up barriers so high that nobody can do anything in the space. Now, if your competitors cannot find a way to overcome those objections either, you may be ok, but if they do and manage to extend their business processes to leverage the power of the internal and external crowds, it may be “game over.”

Typical legal objections include the issues related to brand protection, engaging hourly workers as part of internal communities, the threat of liability for what employees say in public, having employees socialize online instead of doing work, meeting regulatory compliance requirements, and more. While most legal departments will claim that their situation is very unique, at the end of the day the issues are fairly common among many companies.

I do not think that there is one best practice on how to overcome those objections. Some companies find it easier to get legal involved upfront in the process, while others are asking legal to quantify the risks and then balancing those with the benefits or the risks of doing nothing. One good bit of common sense (as recommended in this BT case study) is to make sure that you do not overhype what you are trying to do and position it as something radically different from other programs. Many companies already have policies in place that cover things like email communications and acceptable behavior in public forums – which could possibly be extended to virtual environments without too much change.

What have you found to be working?

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