7 Tips For Getting Legal Approval on Social Media Programs

I don’t think it matters which form of communications you work in; “legal” often seems to be a pain point. It’s not surprising — their job is to manage risk for the organization, and public-facing communications activities (especially two-way ones) naturally offer an element of uncertainty. There’s a natural tension between the two.

Last night I spoke on a panel for the American Marketing Association on the topic of “How to launch and implement a social media initiative.” One of the questions revolved around whether panelists had encountered problems with legal departments when introducing social media initiatives. I thought I’d share some tips I offered the audience there for working with your (or clients’) legal departments, to make the process smoother.

Here are seven tips for working with your legal team:

  1. Tie back to organizational objectives: Show how the program you’re trying to implement ties-in to business objectives, and help to educate the legal team on the strategy behind your proposal.
  2. Educate your legal team: Don’t just throw something new and uncertain like social media at them “cold”; walk them through what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and show them best practices that have been established.
  3. Show them how you’re reducing risk: Walk the legal team through the ways you’re working to reduce risk on the project. If you’re looking to leverage user-generated content, show how you’re going to moderate it; if you’re empowering employees to engage online, show them the policy and guidelines you’ve created to frame it; etc.
  4. Loop them in early: No-one likes to be blind-sided last minute. Loop your legal team in early, to ensure you’re aware of potential concerns and are able to manage around them (the same goes for IT, HR and any other stakeholders).
  5. Give them case studies: The legal system revolves around precedents. Your lawyers are likely to respond well to examples of how other organizations have done similar things successfully (and trouble-free) in the past. If other people have blazed the trail ahead of you, show them.
  6. Draw lines around roles: Clearly frame the role that stakeholders have in your program, ahead of time. Your legal team doesn’t need to be editing your text for style; they need to be working to minimize risk for the organization. Make sure everyone is aware of that role, and reinforce it if necessary.
  7. Be their friend: This pointer came from Eliot Johnson – one of the other panelists: become friends with your legal team. Many people wrongly treat “legal” as the opposition, when they’re just trying to do their jobs. Work with them, not against them, and you’ll find that things go much more smoothly.
What do you think?
Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.