For the past few years, business owners have repeatedly heard about the marketing and customer relations benefits that social media can bring to their businesses. Everyone is using social media to reach more customers and deliver value-adding content.
However, a less often told story is about the risks that social media poses to businesses. There are many risks, but an awareness of them coupled with a few risk management strategies goes a long way to ensure that company-related social media doesn’t succumb to the dark side.
Lost productivity is arguably the greatest risk to businesses. Allowing employees to use Facebook and other social media while on the clock can easily turn social networking into “social notworking.”
Lost productivity squeezes a company’s profit margin, and no one can afford that in this economy.
Social media also acts as a platform for angry employees, upset customers, or unethical competitors to damage a company’s reputation through disparaging posts and false reviews. Their negative comments can tarnish the good will of a business and cause potential new employees to second guess their decision to join a company.
Workers’ posts also can result in accidental or intentional disclosure of confidential or proprietary information. All the extra exposure and marketing that social media might provide won’t outweigh disclosure of a single trade secret.
Employee use of social media also has the potential to create legal liability for a company. Privacy rights, whistle-blower rights, sexual harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination are just a few of the legal implications.
Privacy violations may result from relying on information obtained from social media to make hiring or personnel management decisions. Employees’ unsavory comments on customers, competitors, or other third parties set a company up for claims of interference with a business relationship, slander, or defamation.
Moreover, not only can the posts themselves be the actual violation, but they also act as readily available evidence for trial. It can be very difficult to get them removed.
Fortunately, there are few things a business owner can do to reduce these risks. First, a company should develop a social media policy, train its employees on what the policy requires, and educate them on how social media works (especially on privacy settings).
Human resources should include social media discussions in harassment and computer security training. It’s a good idea to get employees involved in the development of the social media policy, too. Then have them acknowledge receipt of the policy in writing.
In addition, business owners should use an online tracking tool to monitor the use of the company name on the Internet. Google Alerts is a free service that will send an email whenever Google’s search engine detects a reference to a specified search term in its indexed pages. Management can enter the company’s name or personnel names and receive emails whenever new references appear online.
Finally, a business should have a plan for managing and responding to problems.
It’s important to respond to any negative comments or reviews. Unaddressed posts not only look bad to third parties, but they also allow the original problem to fester with the poster and can turn into further trouble.
Some companies even hire full time employees to respond to posts. While a dedicated responder may be beyond the budget for many companies, a little attention will go a long way in customer and public relations.
Business owners should be aware of the potential risks associated with social media. By using a social media policy, automatic alerts, and a response plan, management can prevent issues before they arise and mitigate problems before they escalate.