Making a Sticky Social Media Policy

Honey stickWhether your law firm or organization has two employees or 2000 employees [or partners], having guidelines in place that set the tone for online engagement and protect your clients’, employees’ and the law firm’s well being is probably on your top ten to do list.  The “what” a policy should cover is fairly well documented these days, however, I’m learning that an effective policy is more than a list of dos and don’ts on a piece of paper [or a digital file on the firm intranet].

Context and Education

Being totally immersed in user-generated content myself, it’s easy to overlook the fact that not everyone is fluent in the terms and activities of the social Web. Many firms have instituted standards and guidance for best practices—policy, however,  if the people who are expected to abide by those best practices don’t understand what you’re talking about, well, how valuable is that? Without personal context a policy, any type of policy, can be easily perceived as irrelevant and shelved. This can create a gap when at a later point in time individuals do become involved in online conversations.

Those conversations can be as minimal as a one-time comment on a news site, a peer-to-peer network or a friend’s blog, or as enthusiastic as publishing a new blog; all are subject to unintentional missteps.  Eventually, everyone will be socially connected online with at least a half dozen people or so. That reality may seem far into the future. But I’m suggesting that for all practical purposes, a meaningful presentation of your expectations for responsible online engagement in an educational setting will  save you trouble down the road when the future becomes now.

Modeling Best Practices.

If winning the Trifecta means something to you, consider (1) a policy presented with an (2) educational component and (3) role models for responsible engagement; top down and hands on.

  • Consider circulating examples of how the responsible lawyers and staff in your firm are participating.
  • Advertise success. Feature those examples in your internal newsletter.
  • Organize a panel discussion at your next partner retreat or legal assistants’ lunch and learn.
  • Consider having your managing partner or CEO blog either publicly or on the company intranet.
  • What other ideas do you have? What are you doing to model best practices to your partners and staff?

All this work may seem over the top if you’re not yet fully engaged online, but again, the social Web is here, it’s evolving and it’s changing the way business and networking gets done.

Contribute to the discussion.

I’d like to hear from you if you’ve launched a social media policy within an organization, be it your law firm, a client’s company or your company.  What approach did you take? Was the policy presented as a document attached to a memo? Circulated via email as an addendum to the handbook? How effective was that? Was the CEO or managing partner involved?  Was there formal training involved that put the policy in context for those unfamiliar with social media tools?

Do you require employees to sign off on the policy to ensure that they have read it? Do you circulate memos or emails to highlight recent cases that involve disputes or discoverable evidence surrounding new media? How do you keep your partners up to date on rapidly evolving case law? Do you have an internal company social network that supports blogging?

Finally, as the space is changing how often do you think these guidelines and educational sessions need to be updated? What am I missing?

I hope you’ll share your experience here in the comments or there’s a good conversation going on over on the Social Media Policy Group forum.   ( is a membership only peer-to-peer community for legal industry professionals. Acceptance into the community is conditional based on a verification process.) You might want to check it out especially if you’ve been tasked with writing an appropriate policy. In the forum you’ll find a lot of practical tips, a healthy discussion of emerging case law, and make some great connections with others in the legal industry while you’re at it.

  • Case study: Intel benefits from social intranet (
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  1. says: Kelly

    Instead of having a policy in place that is almost guaranteed to be broken, why not a block some pieces of social media and keep some parts of social media accessible, like having a read-only facebook? Palo Alto Networks might have found a solution to this problem. Here’s a link to a whitepaper they have created:

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