At many organizations, the legal department is heavily involved in marketing and communications initiatives, frequently requiring every blog post and press release to be vetted by a lawyer.
In some extremes, corporate legal eagles even forbid employees from starting a blog or participating on Twitter and Facebook at work.
This problem can be so pervasive that I know people who call the legal department the "communications prevention department."
I've found that the restrictions come down to two factors: ignorance of social media and a lack of trust in employees.
Legal people want to mitigate risk. So they naively think that saying "NO" is the best approach. No to blogging. No to Twitter. No to Facebook.
They say "no" from an ignorance of the value of the new tools of marketing and PR in real time.
Yet from a communications perspective, the most risky thing you can do is hide behind "no comment."
Since legal people don't usually understand real-time media themselves (and don't use them for business in their jobs), they naturally respond by just slapping on controls. After all, their job is to reduce risks within a company, so it’s temptingly simple to just say no.
This is especially true in companies that mistrust their employees. However, if a company trusts its employees and understands that social media can be a powerful way to do business, then it is the lawyers' job to create an environment where you can do what you know is right.
Are you allowed to look over the lawyers work?
Just an aside... I find it really interesting that marketing is never invited to review the corporate lawyers’ work. Shouldn’t we clean up some of the gobbledygook-laden letters that go out to important customers?
But no – they can get into our knickers, but we can’t get into theirs.
What you need to do
My recommendation is to work with your managers and your organization's legal team (and perhaps the human resources department as well) to create guidelines that you can operate under. Your company’s guidelines should include advice about how to communicate in any medium, including face-to-face conversations, presentations at events, email, real-time media, online forums and chat rooms, and other forms of communication.
Rather than putting restrictions on real-time media (that is, the technology), it’s better to focus on guiding the way people behave.
You may have to take the lead on creating the guidelines at your organization, but the effort will be worth it.
Image: Shutterstock / EmiliaU