Your community is a platform for your members to voice so many ideas … but not some.
Antitrust laws are a combination of federal and state laws designed to regulate how businesses operate, in order to keep competition fair for consumers. But depending on your industry, members can get in some sticky antitrust situations if they begin talking about pricing, wages or other insider information. If your members’ chats violate antitrust laws, they could get into legal trouble -- your community included.
That’s why it’s important to have a plan. You need to know how to spot antitrust violations, how to act when you see them, and how to educate members so they can avoid falling into a legal quagmire.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Talk To Your General Counsel
First, you need to know your organization’s internal policies and industry regulations. Rather than assuming what is and isn’t legal, make sure you have a clear understanding. What’s acceptable, what’s not, and are there any grey areas in which you need to be particularly careful?
It’s good to build a relationship with your general counsel anyway, because chances are you’ll be back, at least while you’re still learning, to clarify if a post or comment violates the law. Even if you have a pretty good handle on things, you never know when you’ll be faced with a situation that doesn’t clearly fall on either the legal or illegal side.
If you work with a team, make sure they’re educated. They can help keep an eye out for violations so you can address them quickly. You could even do a special training for some of your member rock stars -- those MVPs who go above and beyond in their participation -- so they know what to look out for and can alert you if they spot anything iffy.
Talk About Antitrust in Your Member/User Agreement
Once you have the lay of the land, be honest and include antitrust language in the user agreement every member needs to sign (and presumably reads) upon joining. You could even add antitrust to your onboarding process -- in an introductory email, include a quick overview of the antitrust policies in the user agreement.
When you discuss the antitrust policy, consider adding a part about how you deal with offenders. Talk about how you’ll delete the post and ask them to rewrite and repost as per the guidelines. It could also be a good idea to add a piece about repeat offenders -- perhaps a “Three strikes, you’re out” policy.
Most likely, your members don’t want to break the law and don’t realize what they’re doing. Taking that first step to educate could save you the headache of having to deal with antitrust violations in the future.
Do NOT Edit Posts
When you come across a post that violates antitrust laws, you may be tempted to just edit the violating part out. Do NOT do this.
Here’s an example: “ABC Corp. is hard to work with and they underpay their staff by 10%.” As community manager, you go in there and change the post to: “ABC Corp. is hard to work with.” Problem solved, right?
No, because now you’re participating in publicly slandering them. Sure, maybe they are hard to work with -- that’s why you left that part in the post -- but you shouldn’t participate in slanderous dialogue to begin with.
Instead, just delete the post and notify the poster -- tell them what was wrong, and ask them to rewrite it. Rather than chastising or being curt, use it as an opportunity to educate your members about what is and isn’t permissible. Most likely, they weren’t trying to get anyone in trouble. And you don’t want to scare them from ever posting again, which could happen if you’re too harsh or abrupt.
Do Mini-education Campaigns to Raise Awareness
No matter how well you set the stage, by educating new members as they’re onboarded or as they make mistakes, you may still have too many violations for comfort. Looks like you’re going to have to do an education blitz.
There are several ways to educate members, besides sending out a mass email. Host a short webinar where people can ask questions and watch the recording later. Start a discussion or live chat where members can talk directly with community managers and administrators. Lean on your community MVPs or ambassadors -- maybe they’d like to take the initiative to moderate a discussion, host a webinar or put together a training.
Whatever you do, don’t make antitrust a scary topic of discussion -- create open dialogue so members can ask questions and get answers. The last thing you want is for people to feel scared to post and participate.
Add a Disclaimer In Discussion Areas
If you do keep coming up against antitrust violations, or you’re particularly nervous, consider adding a disclaimer either at the top or the bottom of a discussion section. It could be along the lines of: “Warning: As per antitrust laws, it is illegal to talk about X,Y and Z in this forum. Posts with such information will be deleted.”
A disclaimer basically educates your members in real-time as they’re posting. No matter how much you educate your community, people will occasionally slip up. Hopefully a disclaimer will alleviate that.
One con, though, is you might scare people off. Of course it’s important to follow antitrust laws -- that’s a given -- but you don’t want to put too much weight on preventing them. It’s a fine line between educating members and making them worry they’ll accidentally break a law and get in trouble.
Keep the conversation going
As with many issues that arise within communities, it’s important members feel comfortable asking questions when they have them -- and know who to ask. Whether they post in a discussion, “Is it okay to talk about this,” or send you an email, you want to make sure members can get the information they need.
Do you have any tips for addressing antitrust violations in your community?