From the Lunarpages Blog this week:

by Jeffrey A. Cohen, Cohen & Richardson, PC

Social media has become a main stream marketing medium that should be considered in any robust campaign for Internet related products or services. At the same time, it must be clearly understood that there are legal and other issues presented by the use of social media which are substantially different than those of other media.

The interactivity that makes social media such a strong communication tool is so unlike any other medium that the failure to properly consider in advance and properly handle the issues that can arise can place the unprepared advertiser or marketer into an unexpected and unenviable position in the midst of a marketing effort.

For example, if your company maintains a Facebook ™ page, the question arises as to how your company intends to deal with negative commentary. Before the social media age, negative commentary could often be easily addressed via deletion, cease and desist letters or, where necessary court orders. In the age of social media it is often the case that any effort to stifle negative communications results in further negative communications critical of the effort to stifle the communication in addition to the initial offensive content. Your lawyer’s carefully drafted cease and desist letter often winds up posted on the very blog or website it was seeking to remove comments from.

At the same time, it is generally not a good idea to react or respond publicly without fully considering the consequences of any particular response. Your “team” in dealing with such a situation should include consideration and input from a marketing perspective, a sales perspective, a legal perspective and in severe situations a public relations and/or crisis management perspective.

AT&T ™ seems to have accepted this new reality and has responded by setting a tone with its customers that is open and respectful yet direct and responsive. Rather than taking a “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” attitude, they maintain an active Facebook page which, far from deleting negative commentary, responds directly and forthrightly to each and every issue raised. This may seem to “old school” marketers to be an unnecessary airing of dirty laundry. However, the level of customer trust and loyalty that is created by this open avenue of communication will likely pay dividends from a marketing perspective far beyond those that would be achieved by aggressively attempting to have the material removed.

Items that should be immediately removed include anything illegal or that is in violation of of the intellectual or other rights of any individual. Any posting that suggests harm to any individual, company or property and any posting that discloses the personally identifiable information of an third party should be removed. It is even sometimes necessary to remove material for the protection of the poster herself. Legal consideration should be given to any decision to remove or let stand any posting falling into these or any other similar categories. A quarterly, semiannually or annual legal review of your social networking pages should be considered as well.

With proper attention social networking can be a powerful and productive marketing tool that need not expose your company to unnecessary legal or other risks.

Copyright (c) 2010 – JACO Product Development LLC – All Rights Reserved.

Jeffrey A. Cohen is an Internet attorney and the founder of InternetLitigators. He is a partner in the California business law firm Cohen & Richardson, PC. Mr. Cohen has a degree in advertising from the Arizona State University School of Business and represents Internet and Internet marketing companies around the world. Mr. Cohen can be reached at JCohen [at] InternetLitigators.com. The reader is cautioned that the information contained herein is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice. There is no attorney client relationship created by this information.