social media for the risk-averse organisation

21 07 2011

Introducing social media into a risk-averse organisation can be challenging. So much of what is reported in mainstream media about social media is negative – paedophiles grooming children, online bullying, sexting, brand sabotage. Why on earth would any sane organisation get involved?

The usual reasons proposed by staff relate to marketing and communication. Social media is a great way to reach out to people, spread your message – go to where your audience is instead of waiting for them to come to you (push communication is always more effective than pull). But this argument does not address the fundamental issue of risk. The conversation needs to be changed.

The real reason why risk-averse organisations need a social media strategy – and note the terminology has changed there – is to address risk. There is significant risk in NOT being involved in social media. The conversation will happen whether you are involved or not. Better to at least monitor and respond if appropriate than live in ignorance while your brand is being flamed. Social media does not stay online – it affects behaviour, as seen in recent middle east uprisings, and drives “old media” – newspapers, television and radio – with reporters sourcing and researching stories based on social media movements.

However – back to the change in terminology – it does need to be a social media strategy. Social media in all its forms is communication mainlined. There is no editor to go through. Anyone can do it – all it takes is a computer and a modem. Whatever you say – good bad, silly or unintelligible, libellous – will be out there for all to see.

So what are some of the aspects and risks that your strategy needs to consider?

• Be clear about what are you trying to achieve with your involvement in social media. This might be obvious for a sales-based organisations but less so for others. Know what you want and expect from this activity. Choose which social media you get involved in based on your goals.

• Don’t think one-way communication works in Web 2.0 and beyond. If you don’t give people the opportunity to converse with you, at best you become irrelevant. At worst, you send the message that you aren’t interested in their opinions. They will notice, and they will comment elsewhere, where you have less control and less awareness.

• Social media needs to be monitored and responded to quickly. If there is a negative or incorrect comment, you need to respond. If you get back in two days time or next week you might find it is 100 comments, or 20,000 tweets. There is a cost associated with live monitoring.

• What do you do if someone leaves a negative comment? You can’t please everyone, so it will happen. Ignore it and you look like you don’t care – it might inflame the issue. Delete it and it’s censorship. Answer it – could result in a good or a bad result. You need to have made the decision about what to do before it happens – not policy on the run.

• Be aware that if someone posts something that is incorrect, illegal or libellous on your social media or website and you leave it up there, you may be liable for it. All the laws that affect your business in real life also work in cyberspace. And you don’t have to have been the one who wrote it, if you allow it to stay out there, you are in the frame. Recent court cases regarding false advertising demonstrate this.

• Monitor other social media forms that you aren’t using. Just because you aren’t there doesn’t mean you aren’t being discussed.

• Don’t give the social media strategy and monitoring to the office junior “because they understand social media”. You also need someone who understands your business, the political and commercial sensitivities your work in and has authority to speak to the media on behalf of the organisation. This person does however have to understand how the various forms work though.

• How are you going to measure the outcomes? When everything else in the organisation is accountable against KPIs, it is important to ensure that your social media strategy is as well.

• For organisations subject to document retention legislation – how are you going to meet this requirement for your social media conversations? How will you index and cross-reference them?

Social media – as part of a planned and managed communication strategy – can achieve organisational goals. But conservative organisations are right to be cautious about how they enter the field and how they manage it.

For some entertaining and somewhat horrifying examples of corporate social media gone wrong, click here.