BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Search Twitter for "Clorox" and the brand turns up with surprising frequency, but it's often in conversation about decidedly off-label uses for bleach. (One entry notes that seeing another naked picture of newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown will force said tweeter to wash his/her eyes out with Clorox.)
Of course, Clorox Co. can't be held responsible for that usage suggestion. But it can be held responsible for what its employees tweet and, if the aforementioned eye bleacher were a Clorox employee, it might be as perilous for the marketer as it would be for the Twitterer's eyes.
That could help explain why the marketer has taken the unusual step of advertising for a full-time in-house legal counsel to focus on social media -- a rather surprising sign of how entrenched social-media marketing is becoming even for relatively established household products. Currently, having such expertise in-house and full-time at a marketer is rare, said Jack Greiner, an attorney with Cincinnati's Graydon Head & Ritchey, one of the few attorneys on LinkedIn to list social-media as a specialty. "It's the first I've heard of it," he said.
"Social-media channels are a growing focus for consumer communication and stakeholder engagement for our brands and company," a Clorox spokesman said in an e-mail. "As a newer communication channel, the application of existing laws to this medium is evolving. For those reasons and the rapid pace of communication in the Web 2.0 world, we're seeking an attorney to focus on social media as well as talent rights."
The primary duties, he said, are to clear and procure intellectual property rights regarding production and distribution of advertising, including Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Recording Artists issues, consumer privacy and video licensing.
The search comes as Clorox has significantly ramped up efforts in social media, including Facebook fan pages for Clorox and Brita, a Twitter account used to recruit people to help develop product ideas and a new blog titled Understanding Bleach. A search on LinkedIn reveals only about a half-dozen lawyers listing social-media marketing as a specialty. And while Indeed.com, a search engine for job listings, currently shows more than a hundred listings that seek expertise in social-media law, all are for marketing executives with awareness of the legal issues rather than an attorney.
Jennifer Klear, a New York attorney who specializes in media technology issues, believes having social-media legal expertise in-house is becoming more common, though she didn't know of specific cases where other companies had hired a staff attorney solely for that purpose.
How employees talk about a company's products and their use is one area a social-media legal specialist needs to address for a marketer, said Mr. Greiner, though as a practical matter, having an attorney monitor every tweet and status update from every employee every day is impossible. A far better approach, he said, would be to create policies that establish ground rules for employee use of social media on, connected to or related to their employment.
Much of the law regarding social media isn't really new, he said, and lawyers versed in more established media, advertising and intellectual-property law are probably equipped to handle it. But the applications are new and ever-changing, and one part of a social-media attorney's job, he said, should be to keep their clients from being goaded into unwise moves by people seeking to use established brands to help their own businesses.
Case in point, he said, is "South Butt," a seemingly obvious reversal on the brand North Face. When North Face sued the man behind South Butt for trademark infringement, the backer of the upstart brand posted the complaint on his website and developed a Facebook app that tests users' ability to tell a face from a butt in various manifestations, making the established apparel brand the, well, butt of the joke.