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Employee advocacy programs can be anxiety-producing for legal teams. What's that? Employees will be posting on social media on behalf of the company? *Sweaty palms* Legal won't be able to approve every single word tweeted by the advocates? *Sweaty forehead and heart palpitations*

Nevertheless, many companies, including those in highly regulated industries, manage to launch successful employee advocacy programs. The trick? Those companies work with legal to set the rules of compliance at the outset. They establish a structure to ensure compliance, monitor the program's progress, and create contingencies plans for when something needs deeper review.

Here are eight steps you can take to mollify the legal team's worries and win their support for your employee advocacy program. Good luck! 

Tie Your Program to Organizational Goals

To gain support from legal (and other departments, too), you'll need to show how employee advocacy supports the larger goals of your organization. Educate the legal team on the strategy behind your proposal.

For example, many executives believe in the potential of digital to improve their relationships with customers. As a result, digital transformation initiatives have become top priorities for many companies, and your employee advocacy program could be seen as a way of improving customer relationships online.

Get Buy-in from Company Leadership

As the leader of the employee advocacy program, it is your job convince and convert your top leadership to buy into your plan. A visible champion of your program signals to the rest of the company, including legal, that your social business initiatives are critical to the success of your company.

Educate Your Legal Team on Employee Advocacy

Employee advocacy is a relatively new concept for many people at your company. Your legal team is not an exception. (In fact, lawyers might think that employee advocacy has something to do with advocating for the rights of employees.) So, don't just throw a new term like "employee advocacy" at them without explanation.

Define employee advocacy for them. Walk them through what you're doing and why you're doing it. And don't forget to show them what best practices will look like.

Loop Them in Early (but Not too Early)

Timing is hard. If you include the legal team too early, they'll nix the project before it starts. ("Too much risk.") If you include the legal team too late, they'll be upset and nix the project after you've put in all that work. ("Not enough time to review and approve the program.") And if they don't nix your project, you'll miss out on an opportunity to learn from them about the risks and regulations in your industry.

So, when is a good time to loop in legal? While the answer varies from company to company, many of our customers approach legal when they've met these three criteria:

  • They have a defined business case
  • They are able to tie employee advocacy to organizational goals
  • They have an executive sponsor

Show Them How You're Mitigating Risk

Have a risk management plan, and then, walk the legal team through the ways you’re working to reduce risk. If you're planning on asking your marketing team to curate content and write sample messages, indicate that. If your advocates will use a dedicated hashtag to tweet about company-related material, let the legal team know.

Collaborate with Legal on Your Social Media Policy

Your legal team understands your company's risk and regulatory environment, so it's important to solicit their input when designing your social media policyAs you design your policy, keep in mind that some of the risks will be specific to your industry. For example, in financial services, a customer's privacy is paramount. It might be cool to see a celebrity at a bank, but employees should not be tweeting about it or snapping videos for Snapchat.

You'll be tempted to write a long list of don't statements. ("Don't do this! Don't do that!") But avoid that temptation. Try, instead, to be empowering. Ultimately, your goal is to build a governance plan for your employee advocacy program that protects your brand and enables your employees to be great advocates who can achieve their business goals through social.

So, try to include positive language. For example, instead of including a rule like, "Don't pick fights on social media," you could write, "Be a good online citizen" or "Ponder before you post." Both of those options express the etiquette and mentality required for employee advocacy, but they do not dwell on the negative.

Train Your Advocates

Training is a great way to reduce risk. A good training program will not only bring to life the company's social media policy, but it will also be attuned to the individual needs of your advocates.

Recognize that all employees will not have the same level of understanding of social media, and even the socially savvy advocates may not have a clear understanding of best practices for using social for business.

Designate a Legal Liaison

Appoint someone to meet with the legal department on a regular basis. It could be monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly. During these meetings, legal should indicate if anything has changed that could affect your employee advocacy program. (Perhaps governmental regulations have changed.)

If changes have occurred, the liaison should work with legal to propose a strategy and a timeline for dealing with the changes. The liaison will be responsible for announcing the changes to the program's stakeholders and participants in a way that will stick (perhaps during a training session with free pizza – just a suggestion).

What Have You Done to Secure Legal's Approval?

The tips above will get legal to say "yes" to your program, while limiting the friction between your team and their team. However, this list is not exhaustive. So, I'd like to hear from you. What have you done to foster a relationship with your legal department?

Leave a comment below.

If you're looking for more resources, here are a few that can help:

Posted by Mark Bajus

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