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The "Like" Is for Real, According to General Mills
Posted on April 19th 2014
We've seen a fair amount of discussion about the significance of "likes" and their equivalents in the professional use of social media. Does a "like" constitute a true endorsement or is it more equivalent to a navigation swipe or a mouse click (yeah, I know I just dated myself by referring to a mouse!)?
Why is this important? Because in the compliance realm of things endorsements carry legal obligations sometime more onerous than a post. An endorsement is someone saying, "I put some of my social capital behind this idea, opportunity, product, persons." But the problem is twofold; in one sense, in the professional realm, said social capital could actually be the endorser's company vs. the endorser's themselves and it might not be the endorser's authority to spend it, and I'm looking forward to a continuing discussion about account ownership. The second, more burning issue about the endorsement is the obligations associated with disclosure and fair balance. In many industries such as Pharma and sectors of Financial Services, when one endorses one takes on an immense burden to supply information about the risks, associated with the endorsed product, and personal disclosures like conflict of interest. Very quickly the burden of complying crowds out the "space" provided for the endorsement.
To embrace social, companies have taken the position that a "like" is not as significant as an professional endorsement and therefore not bound to obligations like what I described above. That might have been possible at one point but as of late, that ship has sailed. Why? In the past few days we've been hearing about the General Mills terms of service change which made "liking" an agreement not to sue the company that was "liked". Pretty clever, huh? But the law of unintended consequences rears its head. If a like is a legal event that binds a company in a beneficial way, it follows that a "like" can also bind the company to other obligations.
As a result, while I think the General Mills assertion will be tested, I think it will hold and the result is that every industry will have to treat a "like" as equivalent to any other endorsement. This means that companies will need to monitor the liking of their accounts or the accounts of their representatives to either ensure they meet their compliance obligations or they prevent "liking" entirely. I don't think the latter is practical or very social so I think monitoring of "likes" needs to rise to top of mind for business, compliance and regulatory officials. It's part of the landscape now.