Guest Post by Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq.
When thinking about promoting your business, one of the most economical and effective methods is Social Media. But as with any such tool, it's important to understand the waters before you dive in head first. We asked one of this industry's social media powerhouses, Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq to talk about what today's community association managers need to know about social media, from a legal point of view. She responded with this incredibly thorough and informative blog post. Please enjoy!
What do I need to know about Social Media?
What do managers and management companies need to know these days about social media and social networking? First, they need to understand that social media covers a broad array of online activities, all of which can remain online forever and are traceable. These networks include not only the blogging community but social networks such as Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram; professional networks such as LinkedIn and Avvo; social media channels such as Twitter; social bookmarking sites such as Reddit and StumbleUpon; and social sharing sites such as Vertical Response. Every passing week brings the introduction of new online platforms and tools that will continue to provide even greater opportunities to help companies and individuals build their electronic footprint.
Social media has already proven to be a driver of business. Surveys show that companies that blog welcome an average of 55% more visitors to their sites than companies that don’t and may generate more than 90%+ additional external website links and 434% more indexed pages, all of which are critical to a company’s search ranking. Companies and professionals who utilize social media and social networking also report distinct advantages including the ability to use these venues as de facto focus groups for the development of new services and products as well as to increase revenue and bolster existing marketing campaigns.
That all sounds great, so what are the pitfalls?
One of the biggest land mines associated with social media and your managers and/or management company is the fact that whatever is put out there under your name becomes your calling card. Before delving into this arena, management companies would be well advised to create a comprehensive social media and social networking policy with the assistance of a lawyer familiar with these sites, these practices and the potential legal problems associated with same. You will want to ensure your managers and other employees know that they will be held personally responsible for what they post online under your company's email signature.
If an employee chooses to list a work affiliation on a professional network, then all communication in that particular network should be treated professionally. Often times, our online identities in both professional networking sites and personal social networks are linked so care must be taken across the board. As discussed below, having certain social skills is important so not every employee would be the logical choice for this kind of public dialogue. It is also important to consider who owns the social media accounts, the content found on those accounts, and the connections and “friends” associated with those accounts.
New lawsuits are cropping up when employees amass large numbers of followers on various social media sites on behalf of their employer and then want to take those followers with them to a new employer. It is best to be proactive in this regard and clarify the boundaries of who owns what through an employment agreement or separate social media use agreement.
If you are a manager who is not affiliated with a company and are using social media and social networking to attract new clients and/or find a new employer, you would also be well advised to discuss all potential issues with an experienced legal advisor and set up your own personal policy to avoid problems.
When using social media and social networking, it is advisable to be transparent by disclosing your identity and affiliation with a particular company. Creating aliases or remaining anonymous are not acceptable options. Whenever you participate, it goes without saying that you should follow the terms and conditions of use that have been established by each venue and your posts should not violate applicable local, state or federal laws or regulations.
How do I avoid these pitfalls?
How do you hope to gain the most out of your social media and social networking activity? You want to show potential clients, peers and industry leaders that you have expertise and might be someone with whom they would do business or further network. Building an electronic relationship presents much different challenges than building one the old-fashioned way-in person. Your choice of topics, your commentary and your tone will all either help you achieve the foregoing goals or make them more difficult.
Your comments should be brief, informative and lacking unnecessary editorializing. No good (and much harm) can come from using the names of particular clients, communities, co-workers, peers, etc. in your comments. Confidentiality must be protected in these forums. Make sure your posts are actually factual and not just supposition. If you are simply stating an opinion as opposed to real data, precede your statement with "In my opinion...". Make sure your posts are grammatically correct and articulate. This content never goes away and if you are a company looking to hire talent or talent looking to be hired, treat this as you would a resume and interview.
Try to refrain from going too far in terms of rendering advice. This is a particularly important warning for lawyers but applies to managers as well. There are many folks in these forums looking for free advice rather than paying their professional advisors. Should things not turn out the way the advice recipient hopes, your innocent blog comment may wind up falling under the "no good deed goes unpunished" category.
The same topics that wouldn't be appreciated at a cocktail party are also not a good idea in social media and social networking sites. Anything controversial or inflammatory will make an impression but it might not be the one you want. In addition to topic, tone is important. Come across as loud, arrogant, hostile, condescending, whiny or scattered in your thinking and you again get further away from your goals.
It is important to also understand that for some people, the goal is to be loud, arrogant, hostile, etc. Just as in non-virtual life, there are some flame throwers on these sites. It might very well be their intention to put you on the defensive; it could be a former client, former employee or a competitor. Folks are not always who they say they are (phony profiles and phony pictures are sadly not entirely out of the ordinary) so when in doubt, don't get drawn into an online fight. It can be a difficult lesson and one I've only learned over time. You will come to find that some social media sites are well run by thoughtful moderators who encourage respectful dialogue and debate and others that are more akin to the Wild Wild West. You enter the latter sites at your own risk.
Understand that people are on these sites for various reasons: journalists seeking story ideas, board members seeking opinions, residents seeking consolation or advice, service providers seeking new clients, new talent and new ideas and all of the above seeking the benefit of shared experience and shared knowledge. It is possible to build your personal reputation as well as that of your company through consistent, thoughtful participation in social media and social networking sites. However, you cannot dabble in this area with a flurry of activity at some times and complete silence at others. These relationships take real time and effort and the upside is that you might turn some of those virtual friends into real-life friends at the end of the day.
Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. is one of the Founding Partners of the statewide law firm, Katzman Garfinkel & Berger (KG&B),www.kgblawfirm.com, a firm that devotes its practice to the representation of community associations. Ms. Berger can be reached directly at 954-315-0372 or via email at [email protected] Ms. Berger teaches a class entitled “The Social Media Minefield: Navigating your way through the ins and outs of Social Media for Managers and Board Members”. You can read Ms. Berger’s blog at www.condoandhoalawblog.com.
For more information, please contact Jo Eterno at 954-845-3978 or you can email her at [email protected].