Social Media & Risk Management – Questions we should be asking

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Amid yesterday’s dumping of snow and threat of a transit union strike (now fully realized), I presented to a conference on government and social media. The topic of the conference was internal communications. The focus of my presentation was the changing role of employees as brand and reputation guardians.

Having done this presentation, or variations thereof, on several occasions, a few thoughts have begun to crystalize, including this one:

Too often at conferences where social media is discussed, the focus skews heavily towards the ‘opportunities’ – as rightly it should. They are signficant and, I believe, still underestimated. Where we let down our clients, however, is in helping them manage the risks – posed by getting it wrong (and the examples are legion, and growing every day), posed by lack of understanding of the dynamics of this emerging space, and the behaviors of those who should be, and generally are, an organization’s greatest asset.

Granted, many will say that by focusing on the risks, you’re viewing social media from a cup half-empty perspective. The real risk, you might say, is not participating at all, or ignoring social media in its entirety. And you’d be right, kind of.

But risk management is important. When you manage risk appropriately, you build confidence that when, or if, your reputation comes under scrutiny – for whatever reason – you can get through it and, more importantly, not walk away from it. And when you have the right processes in place that allow you to guide the behaviors of employees (without placing undue restriction), to listen and know when and how to react, and to understand the variables that drive an issue into the ground or into the stratosphere, you are better positioned to build a more realistic case for social media adoption versus simply focusing on the virtues of the space.

The first question that I typically hear from executives is ’so what?’. The second is ‘what happens if it goes wrong?’. Both questions are important. And both deserve equal levels of consideration. They should spur additional questions, many that I’ve shared previously:

  • Are you, in fact, listening to the conversations you didn’t start yourselves?
  • Do you have the right tools and processes in place to effectively analyze and appropriately respond?
  • Are your employees equipped with the appropriate knowledge to guide their social media behavior?
  • Are other functional areas – IT, HR, and legal – aligned with the new dynamics of social media?
  • Do executives and senior managers understand how this will change the way communicators respond when things go bad?

We do our clients a disservice by avoiding conversations around risk.  But in the same way we often ‘hype’ the opportunity, to focus on it too heavily could be equally damaging. A balance exists.

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