Formulating and Implementing a Corporate Social Media Policy
Written By: Thomas Lynch
Hoyt Webb, Vice President and General Counsel of Legrand NA, discusses his organization's experiences in formulating social media policy, the potential pitfalls of employees embracing new technology, and how this is changing the general counsel's role. Connex Partners caught up with Webb at a recent peer to peer meeting of in-house legal executives.
What do general counsels need to keep in mind when preparing corporate social media policies?
When you’re formulating a social media policy, you want to make sure that you look at your current policies with regard to confidentiality, proprietary information, who is enabled to say what about product innovation, how you are protecting sensitive information potentially regarding mergers and acquisitions, and ensure that the prescriptions that you have in those policies apply equally to online statements.
So, the employee clearly understands that the obligations to protect confidential information, protect proprietary information, other company secrets, apply to their behavior online as well as at the company. This shouldn’t be news, and it shouldn’t be new.
Who needs to play a role in formulating these policies?
You also want to make sure that you’re involving the stakeholders in policy formulation, so that they can help sell it throughout the organization. You want to have your marketing team involved, your HR team involved, and your IT team involved, to ensure that the policies are circulated, the education element of these policies accompanies the normal education cycle within your organization, and that your IT is supportive of updating these policies online as necessary and ensuring that the practices are following suit.
I’ve also suggested in this regard that the policy include things like requests that people going on social media for their own personal purposes not use corporate IDs and use their own personal email address (unless they’re an authorized employee) to conduct viral marketing or otherwise represent the company in online situations. This would prevent some of the confusion out there about what’s a company position versus what’s personal opinion.
Where do you see this need emerging?
In this regard, you can always imagine employees conducting offline activities and online activities that may or may not reflect the values of the company. And so, when they’re online, if they’re using an avatar that includes a corporate logo or a company name and they’re conducting activities that might be questionable vis-à-vis corporate values and value statements, you really would want to make sure they understand they should switch to something that doesn’t have those company names that follow them everywhere they go.
This is not an easy area to address because we currently, as corporate leaders, don’t have control over whether or not somebody we may have given a mug, or a baseball cap, or a gym bag that bears our logo, takes that to some activity that would otherwise not be appropriate for a corporate event. We need to try to work together and enlist our employees to work with us, to be sensitive to the fact that what they do online could potentially implicate the company and ask them to use their best judgment to modify their behavior so that the company is not unnecessarily implicated.
It seems clear that new technologies are creating a wealth of new responsibilities for legal executives; how do you see this affecting the role of the general counsel in the future?
I see the general counsel’s role becoming more and more technical in many ways, working with finance to set appropriate budgets and reserves related to legal matters, staying up to date as may be required with ethical rules on technology, the understanding of technology and how the use of ever-changing online resources such as cloud computing impact legal obligations for the protection of attorney-client information or otherwise privileged communications that may, without some oversight, be backed up to the cloud over which you may or may not have full control over the security functionality and features.
Where else is the general counsel’s role changing?
I see the role of the general counsel as ever continuing to be a role of counselor to the business on many things beyond simple legal matters involving litigations in courts and corporate governance and compliance. I see them involved in strategic development so that the plans that the corporate leaders are making incorporate, at the outset, risk management and consideration for legal risks associated with the anticipated course of action. This can lower costs by allowing the corporation to proceed at an optimal set of risks that the business leaders can accept and avoid general counsel having to react either internally or with outside counsel to unexpected risks about which they were not adequately informed.