Social Media Risks

Social Media Risks

Posted March 30, 2011

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Erik Qualman recently wrote that “we often exult the greatness of social media, but in our euphoria we sometimes overlook the dark side of social media.” This “dark side” of social media has seen Internet landscape littered with examples of ill-advised and poorly prepared social media exercises that went horribly wrong.

McDonald’s, for example, discovered the hard way that promoted tweets on Twitter not only broadcasted their message, but they also invited the world to comment—and the comments weren’t exactly favourable. Further, rogue staffers in any organization can cause a PR nightmare if not properly reigned in, and not even the Church of England is immune from the collateral damage of inelegant participation in social media.

When the corporate world is asked to cite reasons for not getting more involved in social media, two of the most common responses are “we’re not sure of its value,” and “we’re not prepared to take the risk.” The question of value varies across industries and companies, but concerns around mitigating the risk are universal.

Here are five things that your organization can do to minimize its social media risk profile:

1. Get all stakeholders involved in the planning

Executives don’t just control corporate direction, they are also have to answer to shareholders in the event anything goes wrong. It’s important they are kept in the loop and supportive.

Legal might be “risk-averse,” but their support will help ensure your social program is compliant, and will ensure your organization is prepared to deal with any legal challenges—should they arise.

Marketing usually has a stake in any corporate social media program, so it’s important that your choice of audience and messaging are consistent with their broader corporate goals.

Media Relations and PR are experts at communicating, which is what social media is all about. They can provide guidance and training about the principles of crafting a clear and relevant message.

Human Resources is instrumental assigning new roles and creating responsibilities to meet social media campaign needs. HR can also help ensure job descriptions are up to date.

2. Prepare a plan

Why are you on social media? Your plans should include a statement of objectives and specific goals. What do you hope to achieve and how will you measure success? Identify who does what and what’s expected of them. Set a timetable. Finally, pick milestones for review and recalibration.

3. Establish clear corporate guidelines

Social media guidelines will broadly and specifically define corporate social media conduct. Put the guidelines in writing, ensuring they include input from all stakeholders.

4. Provide training and support

Make sure everyone participating understands the program’s objectives and guidelines. Provide examples of how to get started. Anticipate some potentially negative scenarios and offer suggestions to manage them. Provide clear lines of communication and support if questions or issues arise.

5. Start slowly

There are many ways to start testing the waters with social media, and it’s not necessary to do everything at once. As you become more comfortable with the media you can begin to open up more channels. Listen to what your customers are saying and learn from your mistakes. There will be mistakes, but these five steps will make them fewer and diminish the risks.

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