When Bob Lutz of GM or Jonathan Schwartz of Sun set up their blogs, they probably didn’t worry too much about the review with Legal. After all, they “outrank” the senior legal counsel.
But how does, say, a mid-level corporate marketer or product manager set out to create an “official” blog with the blessing and sanction of Legal? It turns out, despite the prevalence of corporate blogging today, that there is still a fair amount of trepidation over the legal review process.
Bloggers need to recognize that “sanctioned corporate” blogging is different from publishing a brochure or issuing a press release. Those documents go through a review process before being set in stone, and sometimes do undergo legal review. Blogs should never go though a “sanitization” step (or they aren’t really blogs and you shouldn’t bother doing them) and a successful blog will usually include largely unmoderated or semi-moderated comments from the public.
We recently worked with Pete Steege to set up Seagate’s first official corporate blog at storageeffect.com. Pete’s blog is a terrific example of corporate blogging done well, and he fairly sailed through the Legal review process. You can too!
Here are some steps to allay your own fears of Inquisition 2.0 and help your Legal team through their own fear and loathing of Enterprise 2.0 social networking:
- It’s NOT easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
Legal is too often perceived as a roadblock and left out of the process until they discover it post-launch, and then they are obliged to sail down from on high with the wrath of an avenging angel. Understand that Legal’s job is to mitigate risk, not to stand in the way of progress or profit. They know that, and all they usually want is a well-articulated business reason for your blog, and a chance to offer advice on the safest way to conduct it.
- Don’t gird for battle—just be prepared
Don’t take an adversarial stance—you will lose. Just make sure you are armed with the business justification. Make sure you can articulate the purpose, topics, and tone of the blog. If you don’t know these, you aren’t ready to blog. Every corporate blog should have a business purpose and a “marketing plan.” That doesn’t mean it needs to be overly “corporate” (or else who would read it?). A corporate blog is the least formal means of corporate communication, and it’s intended to be very human–it should reflect who you are. While the best blogs are “edgy” and compelling, just check in to make sure you’re no more edgy than your company can tolerate.
- Bring along the boss
Set up a legal review and bring along your boss (actually, the highest corporate champion of the blog you can collar). Treat Legal as problem-solvers and advisors, not as adversaries. As knowledge workers, chances are they read blogs themselves and they’ve actually been waiting for someone to show up at their doorstep with this very issue.
- As T.S. Eliot said, “No verse is libre”
Make it clear that you understand what can and cannot be said in a blog, and if you don’t know this, ask your legal folks for advice. Public companies have very strict SEC guidelines about what can be articulated by a company spokesperson. Private companies can also get into trouble for what their employees publish through a corporate medium. Always protect your employer’s interests! Legal is much more likely to get past the blogging medium if they know you are someone responsible they can trust.
This advice, of course, assumes that your Legal folks are reasonable and knowledgeable and somewhat attuned to the issues of corporate blogging. I work in Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, where the attorneys are pretty savvy in this regard. To be honest, I’d love to hear some juicy or entertaining stories from those of you who have tangled with ignorant, fascist JDs!