The Social Media Buffet Continues to Draw a Crowd

By Kristi A. Davidson

Thanks to an explosion of social-media sites, the world now seems smaller than ever. What started as a way to keep in touch or to reconnect with friends, colleagues and relatives has evolved into a critical business tool. If you and your company are not actively using social-media sites, then chances are you are missing out.

According to comScore, a global provider of internet analytics, 98 percent of the U.S. online population uses social media. Facebook’s user network reaches 55 percent of the world’s audience; Twitter reaches one in 10 internet users worldwide; and Google+, the fastest network to reach 25 million global unique visitors, now reaches 65 million users. The average age of social-media users continues to climb. Although women users tend to dominate social media overall, many sites are predominantly male. (Check out royal.pingdom.com/2012/08/21/report-social-network-demographics-in-2012 for more interesting statistics.)

Burson-Marsteller says 87 percent of Fortune 100 companies use social media, and a CareerBuilder survey concluded that 35 percent of all companies use social media. Companies use social media for numerous purposes, including marketing/advertising, sales, consumer inquiry/complaints, regulatory compliance, internal investigations and more. Adam Kleinberg, the CEO and co-founder of Traction, said, “Social media is not one thing. It’s five distinct things:

• “It’s a strategic tool for uncovering business insights.
• “It’s managing the influencers who are driving the conversation around your brand.
• “It’s marketing that provides value and turns customers into evangelists.
• “It’s a critical component of customer care.
• “It’s transforming your organization to meet the transparency and humanity customers now expect of brands.”

While from a legal perspective social media is more than these five things, I can’t dispute that this is a really good way for businesses to be thinking about how they are, or should be, using social media. (For more comments about and definitions of social media, go to heidicohen.com/social-media-definition/.)

The intersection between social media and the law fascinates me—partly because it is new and developing, and partly because it is not. Those who use social media (both for business and personal reasons) should be aware of numerous legal concepts, none of which are new but all of which one could argue must now be re-examined and refined to meet this age of pushing out super-speedy mass information. Just a few of the legal concepts that come to mind are privacy/publicity, content ownership, account ownership, intellectual property rights, data preservation, marketing and advertising rules, reasonable restrictions on employee conduct (on- and off-site and during and after work hours) and, for those of us who are attorneys, tactical tools and ethical considerations. It’s a veritable buffet of enticing issues.

This is a brave new world, but somehow I think the old, standby rules of engagement will continue to hold true. Just because “everyone is doing it” does not mean that everyone is doing it right.