Interview with Blogher Business '07 Panelist Megan Belcher

I am very much looking forward to moderating the Blogher Business '07 Day 2 Panel, "How to Keep Out of Real Trouble" with attorneys Megan Belcher and Nina Kaufmann and Karen Wickre from Google. This panel is part of the track How Do I Get It Right The First Time which focuses on issues that should be discussed in the planning stage in order to launch the most effective social media initiative.

Megan, Nina and Karen have graciously  agreed to a brief pre-conference blog interview. My Show-Me State neighbor, Blackwell Sanders employment lawyer Megan Belcher, will be the first.

Marianne: The panel that will will be on is titled "How to Keep Out of Trouble". In a sense, it seems that in many corporations the lawyers view blogging and social media as trouble personified. What is your perspective?

Megan: I think that much like any innovative marketing or communication strategy utilized by companies, blogging and other kinds of social media are both a blessing in terms of their power to reach the public, and a curse in terms of the potential liability risks.

Any time a company publishes communications that represent the company's stance on its corporate outlook, marketing message, or general media campaign, those communications may someday show up in a deposition or as a part of a trial exhibit. Consequently, corporate lawyers view those avenues of public communication as a source of liability, from tort claims based upon communications themselves, to potential regulatory infractions if the information is not legally allowed to be communicated, like in certain transactional situations.

 Much like any other strategic business decision, the company will have to weigh the potential risk of blogging or other social media with the potential benefit, making the best decision for the company at the time. Sometimes that means the company will be defending a lawsuit at some point down the line. But as they say, you have to break a few eggs. the key is to know when the risk is too great to justify the potential benefits.

As an aside. I think perhaps the most interesting paradox with regard to the intersection of social media and legal liability is that companies who are most likely to use a social media campaign, i.e. newer, smaller , younger companies, are the ones who are least likely to survive the impact of the cost and time drain of a legal challenge.

Marianne: Do you think social media...blogs, social networks and now video have added value to the job seeking and hiring process or complicated it with legal caveats? 

Megan: In my opinion, blogs, social networks and video based services have not as yet complicated to a great extent the hiring process.

Marianne: Is there one stand out legal issue in corporate blogging that you believe is a lawsuit waiting to happen and needs to be discussed at Blogher Business '07?

Megan: I believe the most pressing issue for companies is the effect that all of these communication outlets are having on the existing employer-employee relationship.

Employers are now in a position that they need to be revising their policies to clearly set forth the company's position on the use of blogs, social networks and video hosting services. In addition, as time goes by, more and more employers are having to make employee discipline and discharge decisions based upon what their employees are posting on their blogs MySpace pages and sites like YouTube.

Employers are having to walk a very difficult line between maintaining the integrity of their policies and confidential corporate information, and an employees right to free speech. I believe that in the next few years, it will be very interesting to see how judges and juries alike react to claims brought by employees because of their blogs or other public communications, and how employers will respond.

Marianne Richmond also blogs at Resonance Partnership and Blog the Campaign in '08.

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