Verizon’s Social Media Evolution

March 10, 2014

By Ken Beaulieu

In 2012, Verizon launched a Social Center of Excellence (SCE), comprised of a team of company leaders responsible for the monitoring and governance of social media at the enterprise level. Among its many functions, the center creates policies and procedures consistent with the Verizon brand and supportive of customer needs. “We’re still in a period of evolution,” admits W. David Hubbard, vice president and deputy general counsel, marketing, at Verizon. “Education and guidance have become critical for us.”

Hubbard, a featured speaker at the ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference, April 23-24 in Washington, D.C., shares more insight on the SCE, relates one of the biggest issues advertisers face in the social space, and explains why he is concerned about personal privacy.

Q. Are companies today better organized and prepared to deal with the many legal issues in the social media space? Tell me about the strides Verizon has made in this area.

A. There’s no question companies are more prepared to deal with social media issues now than they were, say, five years ago. Many companies, in fact, have created dedicated social media organizations for the purposes of marketing, public relations, customer service, general oversight, and more. At Verizon, the SCE maintains social media guidelines for employees who participate in social media on behalf of Verizon, as well as for Verizon employees who may participate in social media outside of work. The SCE also registers and approves all new pages/handles on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., and it provides education and training for employees. Participation in social media is still new to many, so we are evolving as new questions, ideas, and thoughts arise. From a legal perspective, the SCE has been extremely important, as we are more aware of the various initiatives being considered throughout the business and are better able to identify and address potential legal concerns.

Q. What is the one issue that continues to confound social media advertisers?

A. What’s most challenging for advertisers and lawyers is the fact that social media conversations with your customer base happen in real time. It’s more difficult to ensure delivery of the message you want the public to receive. In other words, you no longer have complete control of where a conversation is going. You have a community of people telling you, in real time, what they care about. As such, it requires brands to be more nimble in their communications. So, for a large corporation like Verizon, the ability to speak with a unified voice in the social space can be a challenge. There are usually layers of people who see an advertisement or a commercial before it is released to the public. That process goes out the window with a tweet in the social space because the timeframe for relevant content is compressed. As a lawyer who wants our business to be fluid in the space, I know we can’t handcuff our business clients, but at the same time, we have to put a number of controls in place to be confident of ongoing compliance with our code of conduct, tenets of advertising law, and any other applicable laws and regulations. To succeed in that endeavor, the education and training of our employees with respect to social media is absolutely critical.

Q. Has the mobile environment added any legal challenges?

A. We know many people interacting on Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms are doing so on mobile devices. Social media lends itself to these devices. As a result, screen size becomes far more relevant. We must not only optimize for mobile, but also ensure the things we care about from a legal perspective — disclaimers, key messages, etc. — are conspicuous, and that nothing gets lost in transit. But, overall, we don’t treat the mobile environment much differently, if at all, than the offline environment.

Q. Do you participate in social media? What concerns you the most?

A. I do participate in social media, but I don’t put much content out there. What concerns me most from an individual perspective is personal privacy. People who are heavy social media users are, to some extent, saying, “I’m OK if the world knows all this stuff about me.” That can be very beneficial to consumers and businesses alike. For example, companies know what more consumers care about and the type of experiences they are looking for. This leads to much more personalized advertising and overall interactions between consumers and brands. From a legal perspective, while laws regarding marketing, advertising, intellectual property, and privacy apply, the social space is fast-moving and ever evolving. The law isn’t quite where technology is yet. As the relevant technology evolves, it is incumbent upon us to consider whether the existing legal paradigm adequately fits within the changing landscape.


"Verizon's Social Media Evolution." Ken Beaulieu, 2014.