Tag Archives: risk management

How to stay out of court while using social media in business


Social media offers unlimited opportunities, but professional communicators need effective risk analysis strategies to assess potential legal hazards when posting or hosting content.

Screen Shot 2021-04-09 at 2.15.24 pmA stakeholder-oriented approach to risk minimisation can help social media managers and moderators anticipate, identify, address and balance these dangers and opportunities.

In our new book, colleague Susan Grantham and I have identified ten key questions an organisation might ask in establishing its level of social media legal exposure.

I review these ten questions and a further five specific questions for analysing specific social media legal risks in my latest blog in Griffith University’s Professional Learning Hub’s Thought Leadership series here.

If you are a communication professional wanting to study in this area, please consider enrolling in our online courses Social Media Law and Risk Management (postgraduate) or Media Law (undergraduate).

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2021 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, communication, defamation, First Amendment, free expression, intellectual property, Internet, journalism, journalism education, libel, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, media literacy, Media regulation, national security, open justice, Press freedom, Privacy, public relations, reflective practice, risk, risk management, social media, sub judice, suppression

Social media law resources for professional communicators


Colleague Susan Grantham and I have written a new book – Social Media Risk and the Law: A Guide for Global Communicators – now in production for publication by Routledge later this year.

We offer professional communicators strategies for taking advantage of social media while also navigating the ethical, legal, and organisational risks that can lead to audience outrage, brand damage, expensive litigation and communication crises.

We take a global approach to risk and social media law, drawing on case studies from key international jurisdictions to explain and illustrate the basic principles.

Of course, an international approach means we need to direct readers to more detailed information about social media laws in their own jurisdictions. We encountered many resources for this purpose along the way, and offer this compilation as a starting point for social media managers wanting to learn more …

Social media law resources for professional communicators – a starting point

Here are some starting points for further information about the main social media law topics covered in our book – Grantham, S. and Pearson, M. (2021, forthcoming). Social Media Risk and the Law: A Guide for Global Communicators. Routledge: Oxon and NY. Topics covered include general information, news, human rights and free expression, cases, business and corporate laws, crime and justice, defamation, intellectual property and privacy/confidentiality. [Thanks to inforrm.org for some useful suggestions. Many more media law blogs and UK resources are listed there.]


General, miscellaneous and news

Guardian media law blog – https://www.theguardian.com/media/medialaw

International Forum for Responsible Media blog – https://inforrm.org/

Shear on Social Media Law – https://www.shearsocialmedia.com/media_opportunities

Human rights and free expression

Universal Declaration of Human Rights – https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Article 19 – article19.org

Reporters Without Borders – https://rsf.org/en

IFEX – International Free Expression – https://ifex.org/

Index on Censorship – https://www.indexoncensorship.org/

Transparency International – https://www.transparency.org/en

Media Defence – https://www.mediadefence.org/about/

Cases and news

World Legal Information Institute – http://www.worldlii.org/countries.html

Business laws and regulators

International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) https://icpen.org/

Consumers International – https://www.consumersinternational.org/

International consumer protection agencies – https://www.ftc.gov/policy/international/competition-consumer-protection-authorities-worldwide

List of securities regulators internationally – https://www.iosco.org/about/?subsection=membership&memid=1

Crime and justice

UN Global Programme on Cybercrime – https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/cybercrime/global-programme-cybercrime.html


International Press Institute – International Standards on Criminal and Civil Defamation Laws – http://legaldb.freemedia.at/international-standards/

Intellectual property

World Intellectual Property Organisation – https://www.wipo.int/portal/en/index.html

Directory of intellectual property offices – https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/urls.jsp

 Privacy and confidentiality

Global Privacy Enforcement Network – https://www.privacyenforcement.net/

International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) – https://iapp.org/


General and miscellaneous

Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) – https://cipesa.org/

Human rights and free expression

African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) – https://www.africafex.org/

African Union – Democracy, Law and Human Rights – https://au.int/en/democracy-law-human-rights

Freedom of Expression Institute – http://www.fxi.org.za/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,36/

Case law databases

African case law databases – http://www.worldlii.org/cgi-bin/gen_region.pl?region=250

African Legal Information Institute – https://africanlii.org/

Veritas Zimbabwe – http://www.veritaszim.net/

Business laws and regulators

National Consumer Commission (South Africa) – https://www.thencc.gov.za/

Financial Sector Conduct Authority – https://www.fsca.co.za/

Crime and justice

Institute for Security Studies – https://issafrica.org/

International Justice Resource Centre – Africa – https://ijrcenter.org/regional/african/


INFORRM – South Africa – https://inforrm.org/category/south-africa/

Intellectual property

Department of Deeds Companies and Intellectual Property (Zimbabwe) – http://www.dcip.gov.zw/

Privacy and confidentiality

Data Protection Africa – https://dataprotection.africa/


General and miscellaneous

Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) – https://amic.asia/

Pacific Media Watch – https://pmc.aut.ac.nz/profile/pacific-media-watch

Asian Law Network Blog – https://learn.asialawnetwork.com/

Law and Other Things blog (India) – https://lawandotherthings.com/

Human rights and free expression

Free Speech in China – http://blog.feichangdao.com/

Case law databases

Asian case law (WorldLII) – http://www.worldlii.org/cgi-bin/gen_region.pl?region=2647

Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute – http://www.paclii.org/index.shtml

Business laws and regulators

The ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP) – https://aseanconsumer.org/

Singapore Competition and Consumer Commission – https://www.cccs.gov.sg/

Asia Law Network Blog – Consumer Law – https://learn.asialawnetwork.com/cat/personal/consumer-law/

Crime and justice

International Justice Resource Centre – Asia – https://ijrcenter.org/regional/asia/

Asia Law Network Blog – Criminal and Litigation – https://learn.asialawnetwork.com/cat/personal/criminal-and-litigation/

Netmission.asia – https://netmission.asia/


Asia Law Network Blog – Defamation – https://learn.asialawnetwork.com/cat/personal/defamation/

Slater and Gordon – Destination Defamation, South-East Asia – https://www.slatergordon.com.au/blog/business-law/destination-defamation-south-east-asia

Intellectual property

Intellectual Property Office of Singapore – http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/home

Privacy and confidentiality

Asia Pacific Data Protection and Cyber Security Guide 2020 – https://iapp.org/resources/article/311636/


General and miscellaneous

Communications and Media Law Association – https://www.camla.org.au/

Gazette of Law and Journalism – https://glj.com.au/

Professor Mark Pearson’s blog – www.journlaw.com

Human rights and free expression

Australian Human Rights Commission – Social Media – https://humanrights.gov.au/quick-guide/12098

MEAA media freedom reports – https://www.meaa.org/category/mediaroom/reports/

Case law databases

Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) – http://www.austlii.edu.au/

Federal Register of Legislation – https://www.legislation.gov.au/

Business laws and regulators

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – Social Media – https://www.accc.gov.au/business/advertising-promoting-your-business/social-media

Australian Communications and Media Authority – https://www.acma.gov.au/

Australian Securities and Investments Commission – https://asic.gov.au/

Law Society of NSW – Guidelines on Social Media Policies – https://www.lawsociety.com.au/resources/resources/my-practice-area/legal-technology/guidelines-social-media

Fair Work Commission – https://www.fwc.gov.au/

 Crime and justice

High Court of Australia – www.hcourt.gov.au

Australian Attorney-General’s Department – Courts – https://www.ag.gov.au/legal-system/courts

The Australian Constitution – https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/Constitution/


Defamation Watch (Justin Castelan) – http://defamationwatch.com.au/about/

Intellectual property

Copyright Office – https://www.communications.gov.au/what-we-do/copyright

Copyright Agency – https://www.copyright.com.au/

Australian Copyright Council – https://www.copyright.org.au/

IP Australia – https://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/

Privacy and confidentiality

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner – Social Media Privacy – https://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/your-privacy-rights/social-media-and-online-privacy/

Australian Privacy Foundation – https://privacy.org.au/


General and miscellaneous

Department of Justice – Canada’s System of Justice – https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/index.html

Canadian Bar Association – https://www.cba.org/Home

Legal Line Canada – https://www.legalline.ca/

Human rights and free expression

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/rfc-dlc/ccrf-ccdl/index.html

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression – https://www.cjfe.org/

Case law databases

Canadian case law (WorldLII) – http://www.worldlii.org/catalog/51528.html

Supreme Court of Canada – https://www.scc-csc.ca/case-dossier/index-eng.aspx

Canadian Media Lawyers Association – https://canadianmedialawyers.com/

Business laws and regulators

Canadian Advertising and Marketing Law – http://www.canadianadvertisinglaw.com/

Office of Consumer Affairs – http://consumer.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/oca-bc.nsf/eng/home

Canadian Bar Association – Social Media Policies in the Workplace – https://www.cba.org/Publications-Resources/CBA-Practice-Link/2015/2014/Social-media-policies-in-the-workplace-What-works

Canadian Securities Administrators – https://www.securities-administrators.ca/

Crime and justice

Supreme Court of Canada – https://www.scc-csc.ca/home-accueil/index-eng.aspx

Media Smarts – Online Hate and Canadian Law – https://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy/digital-issues/online-hate/online-hate-canadian-law

The Court.ca – blog on Canadian Supreme Court – http://www.thecourt.ca/


Mondaq Canada – A Primer on Defamation – https://www.mondaq.com/canada/libel-defamation/725558/a-primer-on-defamation

Intellectual property

Canadian Intellectual Property Office – http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/home

Privacy and confidentiality

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada – https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/

Privacy Canada – https://privacycanada.net/

David T.S. Fraser’s Privacy Law Resources – http://privacylawyer.ca/

Europe (see below for UK)

General and miscellaneous

Droit de technologies (France) – https://cours-de-droit.net/droit-des-ntic-droit-des-nouvelles-technologies-de-l-information-et-de-a121602690/

Human rights and free expression

ECHR blog – https://www.echrblog.com/

The Irish for Rights – http://www.cearta.ie/

Case law databases

Eastern Europe case law (WorldLII) – http://www.worldlii.org/cgi-bin/gen_region.pl?region=2210

Western Europe case law (WorldLII) – http://www.worldlii.org/cgi-bin/gen_region.pl?region=251

Business laws and regulators

European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net) – https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/consumer-rights-and-complaints/resolve-your-consumer-complaint/european-consumer-centres-network-ecc-net_en

Citizens Advice – https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

Crime and justice

European Justice – Courts – https://e-justice.europa.eu/content_eu_courts-15-en.do

Court of Justice of the European Union – https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-justice_en


Council of Europe – Defamation – https://www.coe.int/en/web/freedom-expression/defamation

Czech Defamation Law – https://czechdefamationlaw.wordpress.com/

Intellectual property

European Commission – Intellectual Property Rights – https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/doing-business-eu/intellectual-property-rights_en

Manual on European Defamation Law – Media Defence – https://www.mediadefence.org/resources/manual-on-european-defamation-law/

Privacy and confidentiality

General Data Protection Regulation – EU – https://gdpr.eu/

Europe Data Protection Digest – https://iapp.org/news/europe-data-protection-digest/

New Zealand

General and miscellaneous

Ministry of Justice – Harmful digital communications – https://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/civil/harmful-digital-communications/

NZ Law Society – Social media’s legal criteria – https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/news/lawtalk/issue-812/social-medias-legal-criteria/

Human rights and free expression

NZ Government – Human rights in NZ – https://www.govt.nz/browse/law-crime-and-justice/human-rights-in-nz/

Human Rights Commission – https://www.hrc.co.nz/

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 – https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1990/0109/latest/DLM224792.html

Case law databases

New Zealand Legislation – https://www.legislation.govt.nz/

New Zealand Legal Information Institute Databases – http://www.nzlii.org/databases.html

Courts of NZ Judgments – https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/judgments

Business laws and regulators

Commerce Commission – https://comcom.govt.nz/

Consumer Protection – Online safety laws and rules – https://www.consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/consumer-laws/online-safety-laws-and-rules/

Crime and justice

Ministry of Justice – Courts – https://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/

Courts of NZ – https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/


Defamation Update NZ – https://defamationupdate.co.nz/

Intellectual property

NZ Intellectual Property Office – https://www.iponz.govt.nz/

Privacy and confidentiality

Office of the Privacy Commissioner – https://www.privacy.org.nz/

Ministry of Justice – Key Initiatives – Privacy – https://www.justice.govt.nz/justice-sector-policy/key-initiatives/privacy/

Privacy Foundation NZ – https://www.privacyfoundation.nz/

South America

General and miscellaneous

Marco Civil Law of the Internet in Brazil – https://www.cgi.br/pagina/marco-civil-law-of-the-internet-in-brazil/180

Human rights and free expression

American Convention on Human Rights – Article 13 – http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=25&lID=1

Article 19 – Brazil and South America regional office – https://www.article19.org/regional-office/brazil-and-south-america/

Case law databases

Legal Information Institute – World legal materials from South America – https://www.law.cornell.edu/world/samerica

Business laws and regulators

OECD – Corporate Governance in Latin America – https://www.oecd.org/daf/ca/corporategovernanceinlatinamerica.htm

Crime and justice

Legal Information Institute – World legal materials from South America – https://www.law.cornell.edu/world/samerica

Wilson Center – The Brazilian Judicial System – https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-brazilian-judicial-system


Committee to Protect Journalists – Criminal Defamation Laws in South America – https://cpj.org/reports/2016/03/south-america/

Intellectual property

BizLatin Hub – Overview – Intellectual Property Regulations in Latin America – https://www.bizlatinhub.com/overview-intellectual-property-regulations-latin-america/

Intellectual Property Magazine – South America – https://www.intellectualpropertymagazine.com/world/south_america/

Privacy and confidentiality

Bloomberg BNA – Privacy Law in Latin America and the Caribbean (Cynthia Rich) – https://iapp.org/media/pdf/resource_center/Privacy_Laws_Latin_America.pdf

United Kingdom

General and miscellaneous

International Forum for Responsible Media blog – https://inforrm.org/

Brett Wilson Media Law blog – http://www.brettwilson.co.uk/blog/category/media-law/

Information Law and Policy Centre – https://infolawcentre.blogs.sas.ac.uk/

Human rights and free expression

Transparency Project – http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/blog/

Case law databases

British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) – https://www.bailii.org/

Business laws and regulators

Competition and Markets Authority – https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/competition-and-markets-authority

ACAS – Unfair Dismissal – https://www.acas.org.uk/dismissals/unfair-dismissal

Financial Conduct Authority – https://www.fca.org.uk/

Crime and justice

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary – Structure of the courts and tribunal system – https://www.judiciary.uk/about-the-judiciary/the-justice-system/court-structure/

The Supreme Court – https://www.supremecourt.uk/


BBC News – Defamation cases – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cxwke9d43kkt/defamation-cases

Scandalous blog – https://www.fieldfisher.com/en/services/dispute-resolution/defamation-and-privacy/defamation-blog

Carruthers Law – Defamation definitions – https://www.carruthers-law.co.uk/our-services/defamation/defamation-definitions/

Intellectual property

UK Intellectual Property Office – http://www.ipo.gov.uk/

UK Copyright Service – https://copyrightservice.co.uk/

Privacy and confidentiality

Gov.UK – Data Protection – https://www.gov.uk/data-protection

Information Commissioner’s Office – https://ico.org.uk/

United States

General and miscellaneous

Social Media Law Bulletin – https://www.socialmedialawbulletin.com/

HG.org Law and Social Media – https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/the-law-and-social-media-31695

Technology and Marketing Law Blog – Eric Goldman – https://blog.ericgoldman.org/

Human rights and free expression

Center for Internet and Society (Stanford University) – http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/

Committee to Protect Journalists – cpj.org

US Courts – What does free speech mean? – https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does

Freedom Forum Institute, First Amendment Center – https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/

Case law databases

US case law (WorldLII) – http://www.worldlii.org/us/

Justia US law – https://law.justia.com/

Legal Information Institute – Cornell University – https://www.law.cornell.edu/

Internet cases – Evan Law blog – http://evan.law/blog/

Business laws and regulators

Federal Trade Commission – https://www.ftc.gov/

US Department of Health and Human Services – Social media policies – https://www.hhs.gov/web/social-media/policies/index.html

US State Consumer Protection Offices – https://www.usa.gov/state-consumer

Crime and justice

Supreme Court of the United States – https://www.supremecourt.gov/

United States Courts – https://www.uscourts.gov/

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – https://www.cisa.gov/cybersecurity

Homeland Security – Cybersecurity – https://www.dhs.gov/topic/cybersecurity


Legal Information Institute – Defamation – https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/defamation

Freedom Forum Institute – Quick guide to libel law – https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/primers/libellaw/

Intellectual property

US Copyright Office – https://www.copyright.gov/

US Patent and Trademark Office – https://www.uspto.gov/

Privacy and confidentiality

Data protection law – HG.org – https://www.hg.org/data-protection.html

US Department of State – Privacy Office – https://www.state.gov/bureaus-offices/under-secretary-for-management/bureau-of-administration/privacy-office/

If you are a communication professional wanting to study in this area, please consider enrolling in our online courses Social Media Law and Risk Management (postgraduate) or Media Law (undergraduate).

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson and Susan Grantham 2021 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, communication, defamation, First Amendment, free expression, intellectual property, Internet, journalism, journalism education, libel, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, media literacy, Media regulation, national security, open justice, Press freedom, Privacy, public relations, reflective practice, risk, risk management, social media, sub judice, suppression

New edition has a section on contract law for PR and new media entrepreneurs


Our latest edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Mark Pearson & Mark Polden, Allen & Unwin, 2015) has a whole chapter on law for public relations, freelancing and new media entrepreneurs.

the-journalist-s-guide-to-media-lawOne of the key topics arising for such people is the law of contract, which is a complex field requiring expert legal advice.

We’ve mapped out the very basics though for the benefit of such professional communicators. Here’s a short excerpt:

A breach of an important contract can be devastating to the financial viability of a public relations consultancy or freelance writer, and it can ruin the prospects of a start-up media venture getting off the ground. While the law of contract can get very complex, the basic concept of a contract is fairly simple: a contract is a legally enforceable promise. It is something crucial to the effective operation of a business, because our financial system operates on the principle of promises being kept rather than broken, so that there is an element of trust and predictability in our dealings. Contracts play a role in a variety of situations in the PR and news business. They can cover the terms of employment for a freelance journalist or other staff, the agreed price and timelines for professional services being offered, and the division of royalties that might flow to investors from a creative news product you are bringing to market. Gibson and Fraser (2011: 305–6) list the essential elements of a contract:

  • an intention to contract
  • an agreement between the parties (including an offer and acceptance)
  • ‘consideration’—what Gibson and Fraser (2011: 305–6) describe as ‘something of value passing from one party to another in return for a promise to do something’.

Contract law can be a specialised area, and constitutes a subject in law degrees—partly because there is a body of case law over the circumstances in which a contract might be deemed valid by a court. In determining a contract’s validity, a court will consider the legal capacity of the parties who have entered into the contract, evidence of their consent, the legality of the purpose of the contract and the form the contract takes (Gibson and Fraser, 2011: 307). The action for ‘breach of contract’ arises when one or more terms of the contract have not been met—which might include work not being completed within an agreed timeline. This is usually where lawyers enter the fray, and a contract dispute can involve long and expensive court action, although alternative forms of dispute resolution are becoming more common. Griggs, Clark and Iredale (2009: 85) recommend that managers follow these steps when they are drawing up a business contract:

  • reducing the agreement to writing and ensuring it contains all the agreed terms
  • drafting it in plain English that does not require interpretation
  • ensuring it contemplates obvious problems and presents a process for a solution
  • ensuring compliance with any relevant legislation
  • limiting exposure to liability
  • identifying the law that should apply, particularly in international contracts.

A complex sub-branch of the law of contract is the law of agency—the term used to describe the authority you might assign to someone to enter into contracts on behalf of your business. An example of a contract dispute over public relations services was a West Australian District Court case involving a consultant to a South African mining company considering buyouts or mergers with other mining companies (Mining PR case, 2004). The dispute surrounded a ‘partly written, partly oral and partly implied’ agreement to provide ‘public relations, lobbying, consulting, networking, facilitating and co-ordinating’ services. The problem was that very little was detailed in the agreement, forcing the judge to look at previous work done by the consultant and to come to an estimate of the number of hours he had worked and their value on this occasion. He awarded him $830 per day for eight weeks, totalling $33 200 plus expenses.


Gibson, A. and Fraser, I. 2011, Business Law, 6th edn, Pearson Education, Sydney.

Griggs, L., Clark, E. and Iredale, I. 2009, Managers and the Law: A Guide for Business Decision Makers, 3rd edn, Thomson Reuters, Sydney.


Mining PR case: Newshore Nominees Pty Ltd as trustee for the Commercial and Equities Trust v Durvan Roodepoort Deep, Limited [2004] WADC 57, <www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/wa/WADC/2004/57.html>.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Stakeholder theory as a way of viewing social media policies and risk


My Skype guest of the week for our Social Media Law and Risk Management course this week is Professor Andrew Crane from York University in Toronto, Canada, the author of one of our key readings for the week on stakeholder theory.

The article is co-authored with Trish Ruebottom and is titled ‘Stakeholder Theory and Social Identity: Rethinking Stakeholder Identification’, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 102, Supplement 1: Ethics, Corporations, and Governance (2011), pp. 77-87

We discussed the application of stakeholder theory to social media risk management and policy development. Professor Crane starts by explaining the basics of stakeholder theory (video and transcript below). Enjoy!


Mark Pearson (@Journlaw): I am delighted to be joined here today by Professor Andrew Crane who is the George R Gardiner Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at the Schulich School of Business in the York University in Toronto, Canada. Welcome Andy.

Professor Andrew Crane: Thank you Mark, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

MP: Well you’ve done a lot of research and writing in Stakeholder Theory, and my students have actually been reading one of your co-authored articles on the topic. And for postgrad students who are relatively new to this theory, would you mind just giving a nutshell summary for them?

AC: Sure. Stakeholder Theory is a pretty simple idea in many respects, you know. It’s really about the idea that corporations in particular are not just there to serve the interests of shareholders. So Stakeholder Theory was designed to give us a way of thinking about other ways of understanding both the ownership of corporations, but in particular how decisions should be made. So, who should be involved in decision making, and how should the benefits that are, driven by corporations, the value that is created by them; who should it go to? So Stakeholder Theory is really about those sorts of questions, so who can affect organisations, but also who is affected by them, and what sort of rights do they have in respect to that stake they have, how should they be consulted, how should they be involved in the decision making, and those sorts of things. So it’s a very broad theory, and I saw that in one of your other readings you had the paper What Stakeholder Theory is Not, because there is a whole sort of set of different ways of understanding what it is – you know, it’s a very simple idea: there are multiple constituencies in any organisation, but then when it comes to [the question] of well, who is actually included and what are the implications of that, then it becomes a much broader discussion of the purpose of corporations.

MP: Yes, and we see that at its simplest level, I guess it’s just simply a matter of stakeholders being there to serve the interests of a company, and the main stakeholders being the shareholders and the customers and the corporate directors. But really your article and the other one you mentioned certainly extends that a lot further and it enters that corporate ethics field, where a company and its decisions have so many more stakeholders interests at play.

AC: Exactly

MP: So, coming to your article which starts to talk about social identity and basically presenting a grid which shows some intersection of what might be seen as a traditional role in relation to a corporation, and other social roles someone might play. Would you mind just talking us through the basic principles there and your spin on that?

AC: The basic way we understand stakeholders is the kinds of interactions that they have with the firm; so we think about them as either customers or employees and suppliers, regulators or NGOs or whatever else they might be. That’s typical kind of transactional view of who those different constituencies are. But the reason why different groups may actually mobilise or try and gain legitimacy in relation to firm, how they might press their claims, the kind of stake that they think they have, is not always about those simple transactions that they are engaged with. The reasons that people do things, the reasons people collect together to collaborate and press their claims upon firms are also about who people believe they are, about their social identity. So what are the bonds that connect me to other people that means these are the things that bring people together and make them mobilise in a social movement or some sort of pressure towards companies. So it may well be that I’m a customer of a firm, but I’m might simultaneously also be an employee, I might also hold shares in that firm; and I’ve got all kinds of different relationships with that firm at any one time. What we are trying to do with (Stakeholder) Theory with our paper is to say well, when people actually do try and press their claims, it is often about who we feel connected to that’s important. So the fact that I’m a white, British male for example who lives in Canada, that is very important for why I may be involved, why I might connect with certain firms. For example, it might be very different if I was a woman or a person of colour, or any other kind of quality which might impact on how I connect with companies.

MP: Well it seems, because of that very reason, to lend itself to an examination of social media in relation to a corporation; and particularly in the case of an emerging crisis because people with different social identities might fluctuate more towards social media for different reasons and in different places. Have you thought yourself about the interaction of Stakeholder Theory and social media in the corporation?

AC: I think one of the important ways of connecting up Stakeholder Theory and social media as well if a firm is trying to work out who it should be communicating with through social media; who the constituencies who are important; Stakeholder Theory provides a framework for that, because it gives us a way of thinking through who are the legitimate constituencies that we should be connecting with, how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate, and also between who are the more powerful or less powerful that we should be connecting with. Stakeholder Theory is often seen in very instrumental terms in that sense; it is a strong instrumental approach there which says firms will care about stakeholders that matter – those that have power, those that have legitimacy, those whose stakes are very urgent. So social media is all about power in many respects; it’s about who you can influence, who you can connect to, how many people in your list of Twitter followers and what have you. So for firms it provides a framework for them to establish who matters in terms of their different constituencies. If we take it in an ethical dimension, take it in a more normative perspective, we say well ‘what rights do those people then have’? What sort of rights do you have as an employee, as a consumer, as a broader stakeholder of an organisation in relation to how it is going to communicate to you – in terms of protection of privacy, protection of various rights in terms of bullying and other things through social media?

MP: Yes – and also I think it can catch some corporations by surprise if they haven’t thought through particular social media stakeholders, or people who are using social media who may be stakeholders. And we see this with these grassroots campaigns against major corporations where they’ve underestimated the power of public momentum and social conscious using social media – which fits with your social identity perspective on that, doesn’t it?

AC: Absolutely. I think one of the interesting things here is that we tend to think of stakeholders in terms of a hub with spokes, right? Here’s the firm, here’s the decision making unit, and here’s the employees, here’s the consumers, here’s the suppliers, here’s the others; but social media is all about interconnections between different stakeholders and between different groups. You can’t think in those terms anymore if you’re trying to understand social media. Stakeholder Theory has limits in its traditional view and understanding it, unless you take it to a much more networked, much more nuanced kind of understanding of the types of environments that firms are interacting with.

MP: Well, while Stakeholder Theory might be very useful in research and the academic and looking at corporations and their interaction with various stakeholders, how useful is it as a practical tool in an organisation? So if you were a marketing manager or a public relations manager and you wished to avert some crisis in your company by trying to ascertain who the various stakeholders are and their respective interests.

AC: It can be very useful. It depends how you use it. It can be very effective at helping firms become prepared for identifying the various constituencies they need to be concerned about. If you take it seriously you need to be creative about trying to imagine who those constituencies are, because it is not just who is going to affect you now, when you think about a particular decision, who is going to be affected further down the line. So it can help you to identify these constituencies, but it can also help you to start thinking about, well, how can we predict what the type of response will be from those constituencies, depending upon how much power they have, how much influence, leverage, whether they are connected to other stakeholders in ways that mean they can leverage even greater influence and those sorts of things. So you can start to predict the kind of responses that may happen based on simple stakeholder framework that then gets into the idea of who has power, who can influence what is going to happen in the firm.

MP: And could you see it fitting in any way into the planning and drafting of a social media policy within an organisation?

AC: Certainly, yes. Both in terms of identifying who should be included in that policy, but perhaps more importantly, who should actually be involved in even devising the policy. Stakeholder Theory is all about who should be involved in decision making, so the question will be can we just set up a policy and then kind of send it out and everyone is going to abide by it. Well, realistically, that is not how social media works is it? It is a very unruly phenomenon. So it’s also thinking about who should be involved in the decision making. Who are the parties who are affected by this, and with our social identity card on it. So it’s not just ‘okay we need to involve our employees, or we need to involve our consumers’, but what particular subgroups of those employees or consumers might we need to be concerned with? So Facebook had its big issues with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community a couple of years ago by making sure that everyone had their real name as part of their Facebook profiles. This community was saying that they wanted also to express other identities as part of their names. So if you don’t have those groups involved when you’re setting up that policy in the first place, you’ve got all sorts of problems down the line when you realise you’ve upset core constituencies without thinking what it is that bind us all together in terms of our identity.

MP: Well that’s terrific, thanks Professor Crane. It’s great to have one of the authors of our readings talking to us about the subject matter at hand, and I would really thank you for your time today.

AC: It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized