A couple of weeks ago, lawyers from up and down the Atlantic coast of the U.S. gathered at the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Times Square for the 23rd Annual Corporate Counsel Conference.
Like attorneys everywhere, the corporate lawyers gathered in New York were eager to learn more about how to handle what most believe is the inevitable day when they find themselves in the same position as McDonald’s, Delta, and Living Social — all caught up in PR crises that sped their way around the globe in only a few hours.
Two of those three companies did nothing wrong. McDonald’s was the victim of a racist hoax, and Living Social offered a “deal” on handgun permits just minutes after a gunman opened fire on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents. There’s even an argument to be made that it was an officer who gave soldiers the wrong information about baggage limits, and not Delta, that was at fault in their PR nightmare.
These days, it’s quick and easy for employees and customers to use technology to share their complaints and concerns instantly, with worldwide reach. From a corporate PR and legal standpoint, even valid complaints and concerns could be handled better by dealing directly with the unhappy individual, without the pressure of a “viral” Internet campaign. As for the malicious campaigns intended to harm the company for one reason or another, they require careful handling by someone knowledgeable about PR, social media, legal issues, and regulatory or compliance issues.
The truth is that companies are more vulnerable to a range of negative publicity opportunities than ever before — and regulators often step in once negative information goes online.
Orrie Dinstein, Chief Privacy Leader and Senior IP Counsel at GE Capital told the conference that “Training is very important. One of the first questions regulators will ask is what training employees received.
“The first 90 days immediately after a merger or acquisition can be especially dangerous,” Dinstein added. “Two companies that are merging may have different cultures, practices, and policies. One company may be wide open — i.e., tweet at will — and the other can be very different. Employees at the acquired company may not be thrilled with the new regime. It’s hard to instantly cobble together a social media rule for the new company.
“You may find employees venting in all kinds of destructive ways. So it’s important that the newly merged company move with extraordinary speed to train all employees on appropriate social media usage.”
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Interested in social media and how to manage employee usage? Check out the July 14 webinar on Drawing the Line Between Personal and Professional Use of Social Media sponsored by Distribion, LIMRA, and Socialware. Details and registration for the free webinar are available online here.
Photo credit http://flic.kr/p/6j1j7a