Smart companies are embracing innovative legal solutions

I noticed that what companies were talking about started to change towards the end of 2010. I noticed that companies were talking to me about how they can best manage the inevitable risks their employees pose as more and more employees embrace and use social media services like Twitter. What I found especially interesting was a growing number of companies are acknowledging that simply cutting off access to social services can be detrimental to their businesses overall for a variety of reasons and that moderate access to social services may even be a requirement for their employees to work better and smarter.

Visit of the Chancellor of the University of London, HRH Princess Anne to the School, 8 May 1986

Another trend I noticed and find fascinating is how companies are embracing necessitate fairly innovative solutions for challenges which are starting to emerge as they either adopt social services like Twitter and Facebook in their communications strategies and become more aware of the potential impact their employees may have in their own right. This point may seem like a duplication of my previous one but companies shouldn’t just be concerned about implementing adequate internal policy frameworks like social media policies to govern how employees use social media and are made accountable to their employers for that usage. Companies should also take into account the possible implications employees’ tweets may have with respect to 3rd parties who follow them. Should an employee’s tweets have contractual significance that could bind the company? To what extent should employees clarify their relationship with the company and their ability to represent the company in their LinkedIn profile?

The Wikileaks debate focused a spotlight on radical transparency in the context of organisational and governmental information but what about all those mini-Wikileaks that have arisen and are bound to emerge as time goes on? What impact could an individual armed with sensitive corporate information and a distributed Internet-based publishing network have on the company? “Internet-based publishing network” sounds like a pretty involved and hard to obtain thing but that is pretty much what an average social network on the Web is, especially if it comprises interconnected social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Individuals’ reach is growing as their networks grow and just as social networks can be a powerful force for positive change, they can also be mis-used to disseminate secrets maliciously.

While there is considerable debate about whether something like Wikileaks should be permitted to exist and whether it provides a valuable service to us all, Wikileaks has shown us that the tools to replicate its work are pretty readily available. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a million more sources of government information being leaked but it does mean that sensitive information could leaks could, and probably have already, occur on smaller scales. This potential could change how companies interact with their customers, how people perceive their brands. The radical transparency Julian Assange works towards could become a new paradigm brands will have to adapt to.

More and more companies are embracing the social Web in their marketing and general communications activities. At the same time the social Web is continuing to grow, evolve and become more complex and this means that the challenges companies are facing are, themselves, becoming more complex. New services are gaining traction. Consider Quora, a social question and answer service which a remarkable number of Web and technology thought leaders are participating in. It is very sticky, contains a growing body of collective knowledge and its not really surprising that it was created by a former Facebook stalwart. Facebook itself is the single biggest only social network on the planet and well on its way to becoming one of the largest communities humanity has ever known. It is also becoming a fundamental part of its users online identity, if not their core online identity. It could become more valuable and useful than national identity. What does that mean for the social Web and the legal solutions necessary to accommodate these developments?

What is clear is that the social Web is a challenging and exciting space, the legalities that accompany its evolution are becoming increasingly complex and the solutions companies will require must be innovative. More of the same from your lawyers has never really been sufficient and it most certainly won’t be this year or the years to come.

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