In the past 10 years, the rise of social media has caused our society to have the benefits of sharing news immediately along with the risks associated with how quickly that news can spread. Democracies around the world have been warning of the use of social media by “bad actors” to spread misinformation and undermine governments, the electoral process and encourage discord. The effects of social media on mental health has been highlighted, most particularly for youth, and the use of social media by authoritarian governments as a weapon to control citizens has been a source of concern. It’s not just governments that can feel the sting of social media. For organizations the risks associated with social media can include reputational risks, legal and employment risks and information and security risks and mistakes can ruin careers, damage corporate reputations and hit the bottom line. In today’s fast-moving world, organizations have little choice but to incorporate social media into their communications arsenal. How can organizations manage the risks associated with social media, while taking advantage of the benefits?
The most important component of using any communications tactic properly is to ensure that there is an overall strategic plan that aligns with your organization’s goals and enhances its reputation. When it comes to social media, there are other considerations that come into play. Social media does not wait for the cautious and can only be planned out to a certain extent. The nature of the beast is that news on social media is fast and there will be occasions when there is little time to plan and respond. In addition, in our current environment avoiding controversy is sometimes worse than wading in. The issue with social media is once it’s out there, it’s very hard to undo and when you lose control of the message, it’s very hard to get it back. Weighing the need for a speedy response with the potential downfall is not always an easy task. CEOs have learned the hard way that organizations can be called out on social media for the way they lead an organization, operational choices and avoiding politics and social movements. Disgruntled employees have used social media to criticize management, publicly disclose internal communications, and when employees have a large following the damage can be immense. Given how quick the public can be to repudiate a CEO and an organization and how quickly corporate reputation can be damaged, it becomes even more important to have a risk management plan and corporate strategy to guide social media.
Prior to developing any corporate strategy, it’s important to do a comprehensive risk assessment. This is true enterprise-wide and holds true for social media. Everyone in the organization should understand its goals and ESG practices and these should guide the way an organization presents itself to the public and its employees. There should be a comprehensive social media policy for employees that clearly explains how it should be used and how to avoid risks. Ongoing training should be provided, and the plan should be updated to address lessons learned and changing patterns in social media. There should be a crisis plan in place to address any issues that arise, and scenario testing should be incorporated into the plan. The risk assessment and ultimate strategy have to take into consideration not just the potential for the organization to make a misstep, but also for an employee to purposely or unintentionally misuse social media or a hacker to take over the organization’s accounts and use it for their own purpose. Like any technology, social media has the potential to offer bad actors an opportunity to find loopholes in an organization’s cyber security and is increasingly used as an entry through employees, and this should be part of any training.
Social media comes with great opportunities for organizations, but given the speed and reach of messages, it comes with a lot of risk. We live in times where it’s impossible not to have a social media presence but ensuring that your organization has the right presence that supports its goals and values is imperative. Proper planning, risk assessment and enterprise strategies will help both employees internally understand how to use social media and guide social media managers responsible for creating plans. Providing proper and ongoing training, updating policies, following those policies and being prepared for potential issues will help make sure that organizations are limiting the risk associated with social media, while taking advantage of its potential.
Written by: Allison Hawkins