How to tackle the risks of social media

By Lance Concannon, UK social media lead at Text 100

Speak to any senior corporate comms exec about the barriers that prevent them from using social media more in their organisation, and I guarantee that the issue of ‘risk’ will usually come close to the top of the list. This raises a couple of questions; what exactly are the risks posed by social media, and how can we negate, or at least mitigate, them?

What if people say bad things about our brand?

People often think that creating social media channels for the brand will add fuel to the fire of criticism, but that really doesn’t make any sense. Almost all brands have detractors, and social media makes it easier than ever for those detractors to share their opinions online and there’s not a lot you can do to stop that.

By participating in social media itself, your brand can at least provide those detractors with the opportunity to come to you with their grievances so that they can be dealt with in a constructive manner. If people are going to say bad things about your company, wouldn’t it be better for them to say those things in a place which you can easily monitor and manage, rather than some other website where you have absolutely no control?
So in this instance, social media does not introduce risk, but enables businesses to manage risk which already exists.

What if our own people run out of control?

In most large organisations there’s a very good chance that employees are already talking about the company in social media in either a semi-official or completely unsanctioned manner. Maybe they’ve set up social media profiles for the brand under their own steam with the best of intentions but haven’t coordinated this activity with the comms department and are not following best practice.

Or maybe disgruntled are employees complaining about the company in channels like Twitter, blogs, Facebook and discussion forums. Perhaps others are trying to be helpful by responding to consumer comments online, but they’re sharing incorrect information or using the wrong messaging.

You manage all of this through robust policies and training.

First of all ensure that you have clear policies in place for how staff are allowed to discuss the company and their jobs in social media; publish guidelines that enable and encourage staff to participate in these channels, but make the boundaries clear and explain why those boundaries have to exist. It should go without saying but you need to make sure that all staff are aware of the guidelines, from the interns all the way up to the directors.

Within any organisation there are going to be social champions – the kind of people who have a natural urge to go online and talk about the business and their work. Find out who these people are, because they are a powerful asset, and give them the training and encouragement they need to act as online brand ambassadors.

What if we get it wrong and end up with egg on our faces?

This fear is not completely without foundation. For all the talk of businesses needing to ‘take risks and experiment’ in social media, the industry loves to trumpet stories about big brands getting social media wrong. If experimentation and risk taking is to be encouraged, then perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more supportive when brands make mistakes in these channels.

The simple truth is that even with the best intentions, sometime marketing campaigns and comms activities in social media can go awry in ways you hadn’t anticipated. This risk can be mitigated by careful planning and research; read case studies and learn from the experience of others to find out what’s worked well and what’s gone wrong in the past.

When you’ve planned out your activity, spend some time trying to pull it apart and pick holes in it. What could go wrong, how could people derail or hijack it, why might it fail? Obviously you can’t predict all potential outcomes, but at least if you’ve already thought about possibilities, no matter how improbable, you can be better prepared in case things don’t go as planned.

If possible, work with an agency which has plenty of experience in social media activity – but before you sign a contract, make sure you check their credentials to see if they’re really up to the task.

While there are certainly some risks involved in using social media as a communications platform for your business, they are far outweighed by the potential benefits. The biggest risk of social media is being left behind by your competitors if you fail to take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

About the Author
Lance is the social media lead for Text 100 UK, where he focuses on helping clients to build better relationships with their audiences through digital and social media channels.

He has worked in digital PR since 2005, developing and executing social media communications activities for world leading brands such as IBM, AMD, Sony Electronics, and Oracle. Prior to this he worked as a technology journalist for over a decade, most recently contributing to Internet Magazine at EMAP as the title’s technical editor for four years.

Lance contributes to the Text 100 UK blog and Text 100 Hypertext blog  discussing emerging and mainstream communications trends and how they are being embraced, challenged and championed. You can also follow Lance on Twitter here.

Text100 UK are official sponsors of the Twitterwall at SMWF Europe taking place on the 27th – 28th March at the Olympia, London. To confirm you place and hear more from Lance please click here. 
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