Actually, I don’t believe companies and brand owners have real control over their brands and the conversations springing up around their brands largely due to the distributed and viral nature of these platforms. What companies can attempt to do is engage with the people who are talking about them and their brands and participate in a brand and relationship building exercise.
Now this sounds like the sort of marketing speak you might expect from, well, marketing types but an awareness of these sorts of dynamics is essential if you have any hope of understanding and working with the legal issues that arise out of social media initiatives. One tool which a growing number of companies are using is a social media policy. This video interview with Adam Brown, Head Of Social Media at Coca-Cola, gives a pretty good overview of what a social media policy should address (thanks to my client who referred this video to me):
I really like Coca-Cola’s approach to its social media policy. A big part of the policy is intended to establish a broad framework (in this case a set of principles and values) that governs how various stakeholders make use of social media based on their roles within the organisation. I firmly believe that educating employees and other stakeholders about the social Web and social media tools goes a long way to reducing exposure to liability.
Combine that with a clear and carefully thought out framework that caters for the multitude of regulatory and other relevant compliance considerations and you are better equipped to manage the uncertainties that remain part and parcel of social media marketing campaigns and initiatives. It is also a good idea to approach a social media policy from the right perspective as lawyers. Lawyers have a tendency to try and cover all the bases and create documents that are very specific and prescriptive. The challenge with social media policies is that their subject matter is virtually in a state of constant flux as new services emerge and new uses for existing services become popular. A policy that is too specific will quickly become irrelevant or just inappropriate.
In addition, the process of developing a social media policy should create a better awareness of what the various social media tools can help the company achieve, where the risk areas are and strategies to help manage them. A better awareness means a more informed decision making process and the comfort of have a plan to deal with issues which may pop up along the way.
Social media policies will become increasingly valuable as more businesses start using social media. Just remember that social media policies, perhaps more than any other policy document, should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they remain relevant, appropriate and effective.