Getting the Horse to Drink – Lawyers Role in Social Business

The use of social networks for engaging customers and users is well established. At least the promise of it is. Some companies are still struggling with it, though. As the early adopters in this space are looking at expanding their efforts, their eyes turn towards social business.

Definitions of social business differ depending on who you talk to. Let’s just use a simple definition to frame the discussion of how lawyers can help enable this. Social business is the adoption of ‘social networking tools and practices for internal and external functions.’ Being a social business means that social permeates all of your organization, and this includes your legal group.

Unless you are a small company without a legal staff getting buy-in and support from your legal department is essential. It can be a huge force multiplier. The flip side is that your efforts will be slowed down, shot down, or modified beyond recognition if you don’t have their support. If you are a small company with no legal staff, there are lots of folks out there who can support you in a cost-effective manner.

It Starts At The Top

Any adoption of a new paradigm for running your brand starts with leadership at the top. Adi Gaskell wrote this morning about how executives can enable social business. All of his comments are on point for my topic as well. Your head lawyer is one of the executives he is talking about.

I wonder if alot of the friction against social at the C-suite, comes from the lawyer in the room. Lawyers by their very make-up are resistant to change. We are always looking at the past to inform our view of the future. We call it precedent. So you take the problems common with C-suite executives and add on an additional lawyer layer and you get someone who may be your biggest roadblock. Is your head lawyer active on social? Do they even have a LinkedIn profile? If the answer is yes to both, you are well positioned. I think the answer for most brands is that the answers are no.

If you have a lawyer at the top who is not embracing this new paradigm and channel, you need to spend time with them. By you I mean the folks that implement social across your organization. They need to be shown what are the real risks and how you are mitigating those risks. You need to be open to what they are afraid of, and their concerns. Some of those will be far-fetched. Do not dismiss them. Spend time thinking about how your already existing processes address those concerns. Do this right and you may just end up with an advocate at that C-Suite meeting.

The Rest of The Lawyers

Being a social business requires that social permeates everything that your business does. While slapping a timeline on your legal department’s internal website doesn’t make your department social, it is a start. Find out what the rest of your organization is doing to implement social tools to further the business and implement them with your lawyers. Get them to walk the same walk everyone else is.

Remember I said that lawyers are resistant to change? You are going to get a lot of pushback from lawyers who are not versed in emerging technology. This is practically every lawyer at your company. Some of their push-back will be even more far-fetched than your head lawyer. Your job is to hear those as well.

The first step is education. You need to educate your entire legal team on social. They need to hear what all the major platforms are, how they can use them, and how your company is using them. Brief them on how you monitor and respond. If you are kicking off projects, try to involve folks in the legal department in those discussions. Lawyers tend to focus on when things go wrong, show them how positive social can be for the brand.

The Horse Needs to Drink

Unless your company is never going to engage with customers, clients or other companies using social as the channel of that communication, lawyers need to become familiar with social. They are not doing clients any service by not knowing what the future is bringing to brands. I cannot conceive of any company that will not be leveraging social as a channel. So if you are in-house counsel anywhere social is something you need to learn.

Here are some things to do if you are in-house counsel:

    • Ask questions. Find the people that are implementing social at your brand and spend time with them. Job shadowing is a great tool.
    • Take some CLE in this area. There are great lawyers out there who understand and get this space. They have spent time working through some of the issues already. Learn from their experience.
    • Go to the scene. Becoming active in whatever capacity you are comfortable with is a great start. For some this may be behind the cloak of a pseudonym. For others it may be overt. If you have legal or other interns this summer find out what hot platforms are out there and what the cool folks are using. Hint – spend some time on Pinterest.

For all the lawyers out there that are in-house, remember the golden rule – It’s The Business, Stupid. Your company is in business to supply a service or product to consumers. Unless your business is a law firm, you don’t make money by providing legal opinions. Do not lose the ball. Try to practically balance the risks of this space with business needs and objectives.

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3 Responses to Getting the Horse to Drink – Lawyers Role in Social Business

  1. Adi Gaskell says:

    Nice post. Altimeter produced a report on social risk management last year that might be a useful aid when talking to lawyers.

  2. Mick says:

    I think you’re on to something with your questions about your lead attorney being on linked in or active in social media. I wonder if there is a simple q&a, fill in the blanks checklist that organizations could use to assign themselves a legal social media score.

    • rmbohanek says:

      Sounds like a really good idea. The problem with some lawyers is how to get them to accept a failing. I think that therein lies the challenge for some folks on the business side. Embracing your lawyers means telling them gently that they need to ‘buy a clue.’ This problem will only get greater as the need for this legal thinking outstrips the supply of lawyers who are tech-heads themselves.

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