Keep it Legal – How to Keep Your Virtual Event on the Right Side of the Law
Virtual events are often embraced by organizations that are looking for innovative ways of doing things – faster, better, cheaper ways of connecting with customers, training employees and building up the organization’s credibility with key partners and market influencers. But despite the promise and excitement that goes with hosting virtual events, there are possible pitfalls and “real world” consequences if organizations do not manage their risks properly.
Just like a “real life” in-person event, the communications shared at a virtual event can impact an organization’s legal liabilities and regulatory compliance obligations. When you start to plan your next virtual event, keep in mind that along with “playing offense” by reaching out to customers and sharing your message with the world, your company might also need to “play defense” by mitigating risks and managing vulnerabilities.
Here are some of the main legal liabilities and risks that might have an impact a virtual event, along with some tips on how to manage them.
- Disclosure of confidential information: In the Information Age, organizations have more information at their disposal than ever before, and it is easier than ever before to share this information with a wide audience via e-mail and other media. Virtual events are taking this powerful trend to the next level – but the same technologies that create opportunities also contain risks. Make sure that your organization has good policies in place to avoid the unwanted disclosure of confidential or sensitive information via a virtual event. If you work with a virtual events platform provider, ask about your options for managing access to confidential information during the event or look for ways to create tiers of access to the various types of information being discussed and distributed. Here at Social27, we build our platform using Microsoft technologies, which ensures a strong commitment to compliance.
- Making forward-looking statements: The same rules that govern forward-looking statements in “real life” on a press release or on a conference call with analysts also apply to statements made in a virtual event. Any communication issued on behalf of a company in a virtual environment should be considered just as valid as a statement made offline. Don’t run afoul of the SEC or other regulators by sending the wrong message at a virtual event – the same disciplined communication that protects your company in the “offline” world can also help your company in a virtual environment.
- Bad behavior by employees: This is a rather extreme case, and hopefully this won’t happen to your company, but you need to be prepared for the possibility: the same rules affecting on the job harassment and creating a hostile work environment can also apply to a virtual environment. Any message sent as part of a virtual event that could be considered harassing, defamatory or libelous can damage your company’s reputation (and even lead to fines and penalties) just as if it was a harassing e-mail or other communication. For these reasons, among others, it is important for your organization to create a virtual events code of conduct before you start engaging in virtual events. Give your employees some guidelines and clear expectations for what is expected. Remind them that bad behavior in a virtual environment can have real-world consequences for the organization (and for the employees).
- Failing to maintain records of the virtual event: Most electronic communications (such as e-mail) are required to be archived for compliance purposes. It helps to be proactive. Anticipate the possible compliance issues that might arise with your company’s use of virtual events and start now to address them. Your company might prefer to keep thorough records of the virtual events in order to use them for market research, tracking customer feedback, and making improvements for future events – so keeping an archived history of your previous virtual events is no big hardship and it may even offer some benefits from a compliance perspective as well.
Join the conversation. Agree with me? Good. Disagree? Even Better! Tell me why…
What are some of the unique risks and liabilities that affect virtual events? Is it simply a matter of keeping in mind that online communication is bound by the same limitations and consequences as “real life” communication? Or have you heard any stories of how companies might have been surprised or unprepared for the risks they were facing – and how did they adapt and manage the risks?
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