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3 myths stopping legal profession from embracing social media

November 12, 2010

Former Seattleite and now social media manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Shannon Paul, has a wonderful post on the ‘3 Myths Stopping Regulated Biz From Embracing Social Media.’

By regulated industries, Paul is generally referring to businesses in finance/banking/securities, health care (insurance/hospitals/doctors), pharmaceuticals, government agencies themselves, spirits and insurance (property/casualty).

Add the legal industry to the list Shannon. And it’s not only the American bar Association, state bar associations, and state supreme courts prescribing legal ethics rules, it’s also law firms’ internal compliance teams and general counsel regulating the use of social media.

The myths and facts:

Myth: We can’t do anything creative or innovative because rules won’t allow it. In this case, they usually refers to the government, regulating body or even the company’s own internal compliance team.
Fact: There are always ways to figure out how to achieve your end result in a creative way AND stay within the regulatory guidelines.
Myth: Our industry regulations are worse, or more restrictive than other industries.
Fact: Each regulated industry has its own set of unique challenges, but many of the most frustrating elements are common amongst all regulated industries, and even those that are not regulated. Success at becoming a social business is challenging for all businesses. Regulated businesses often have the luxury of recognizing what some of the rules of engagement are for them as they wade into the social web. Unregulated businesses often stumble without rules to guide them in how they approach this new medium.
Myth: We must wait for our regulating body to tell us what we can and cannot do before we begin with social media.
Fact: Most regulatory bodies actually look to guidance from those they regulate when drafting new rules. The opportunity for outreach in defining the guidelines proactively often exists. Companies that sit and wait miss out on the opportunity to help steer regulatory bodies in a way that supports their business. Many regulated businesses could also begin to listen and track online conversations around their brand, and examine web traffic from social sites — there may be some insight, or valuable feedback out there that could inform everything from future product development, campaign development, safety issues, customer service opportunities, sales opportunities and so on. ‘Doing social media’ doesn’t always mean creating a Facebook page — the value here isn’t in the tools themselves, but in how you use them.

Paul’s thoughts on working with social media in a regulated arena are most welcome in light of the recent rhetoric from both sides in the legal blogosphere following the September Paper released by the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20.

There is something incredibly rewarding about helping a business navigate the rules brought by regulation in a way that helps them embrace this new dialogue-driven style of communication to connect them with customers and other stakeholders in a meaningful way, yet also respects the notion that most regulations are intended to protect consumers — never forget that.

I suspect that there’s much more in common than most will concede between those advancing social media in our legal profession and those charged with regulating lawyers use of social media. We just need to look at the myths and facts and embrace dialogue, as opposed to diatribe.

As a heads up, Shannon Paul writes about how social media amplifies and aligns with marketing, public relations and other business objectives in her Very Official Blog. It’s an excellent read and one that’s been in my RSS feeds for quite a while.