Inside the Profession

Friday Five: Regulating Social Media Practices

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Social media is changing the regulation landscape for a number of industries. However, as companies and brands try to stay relevant by participating in online discussions, they must be mindful of preexisting rules and regulations that govern a great deal of the social engagement taking place. Even regulators struggle to understand evolving technologies and issue new guidance or adapt existing rules. The goal is to find a balance between complying with regulation and still finding opportunities to create engagement online.

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post — an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary — we explore how companies within different industries are affected by social media regulations and how they are finding balance in a social world stifled, yet protected, by online regulation.

Delaware Schools to Be Barred from Students’ Social Media Lives (Law Blog/The Wall Street Journal)

With the development and expansion of sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter, a number of schools are taking an increased interest in their students’ use of social media sites both during and after school hours. Some colleges and universities have required students to download social media monitoring software on their personal electronic devices or accounts as a condition of their scholarship or athletic participation. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Delaware is on the verge of prohibiting schools from monitoring students’ social media activity without  explicit consent. The state Senate unanimously voted to ban public and private schools from requiring students to allow access to their social media lives, the Los Angeles Times reported. Attorney Bradley Shear, who helped draft Delaware’s social media law, said “schools and employers that require access to social media are violating the First Amendment.”

Morgan Stanley to Expand Access to Social Media (DealB%k/The New York Times)

The New York Times reported that Morgan Stanley plans to give almost 17,000 financial advisers partial access to Twitter and LinkedIn over the next several months. This decision comes after a yearlong social media trial run with a smaller select group of employees. Morgan Stanley believes that social media can be an effective business tool for financial advisers. Even with this new found social freedom, financial advisors must remain in compliance with securities regulations. This means they will continue to use prewritten social media copy that has already been approved internally.

The 2012 Socialympics (Search Engine Watch)

Today’s social media community isn’t what it was four years ago and this year’s summer Olympics will be what some are calling the first “Socialympics”. For this reason, the International Olympic Community has decided to update their social media policies. In a previous post on, contributor Rachel Boothroyd offered a few Olympic social media dos and don’ts for brands:

  • Brands cannot associate themselves with the Olympics
  • Comply with the Olympic Association Right (OAR) and London Olympic Association Right (LOAR)
  • Provide the facts and take a journalistic approach to avoid violating restrictions

Read the full list here: Social Media Guide to the Olympics Part II: The Golden Rules and Other Practical Guidelines.

Despite the number of new restrictions, there will still be plenty of opportunities for brands and other followers to participate in the conversation. Search Engine Watch contributor Kaila Strong predicts that the seven most popular social channels that will be used are Olympic online communities, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Photos/Pinterest and Shazaam.

COMPLY-Avoiding Angst Over Online Reviews (Reuters)

This week, Reuters reported that financial advisers are worried over online review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List and online telephone books including Google places. The concern is that reviews, whether praising or condemning services provided by financial institutions, may be looked at as testimonials or advertising, both of which are subject to securities industry regulation. Reuter’s Suzanne Barlyn said, “It is all muddying the waters in an online world that is quickly expanding and still confusing to advisers.” Since the introduction of social media, regulators and the securities industry have been focused on practices related to traditional social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Online review sites cross a gray area not clearly defined by rules and regulations already in place. In the mean time, financial advisers will discourage clients from posting reviews, while they wait for the SEC to resolve the issue of online review sites in regard to preexisting social media regulations.

5 Social Media Legal Land Mines (Healthcare Finance News)

Even the healthcare industry is seeing the potential legal ramifications that can come as a result of using social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. A recent whitepaper by Actiance outlines five keys to the legal issues of social media.

  1. Privacy: “With so much content out there, and so many ways to access these social media tools, privacy has become somewhat elusive for many,” the report reads.
  2. Content Ownership: “Typically, each site has its own ‘Terms of Use page,’ detailing the extent of its rights over end users’ content,” it reads.
  3. Intellectual Property Infringement: “Not surprisingly, given the abundance of content and the myriad ways to access it, intellectual property infringement is an area generating much legal interest,” reads the report.
  4. Unauthorized Activities: The report outlined several unauthorized online activities – including harassment, discrimination, defamation, disclosure of confidential information and criminal activity.
  5. Regulatory Compliance: Healthcare Finance News contributor, Michelle McNickle says, “When looking at healthcare, HIPAA requires a patient’s identity and personal health information to be protected.”

Nicole Castro is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.

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