Dark Side of Social Media: Real Risks for Big Firms

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Think every business embraces social media? Guess again…

The Society of New Media Communications and Research found last year found that only 35% of Fortune 500 companies maintained a corporate Twitter account, and not even a third are using online video.  Even fewer (22%) have a corporate blog.

Why?  Why wouldn’t every company want to have a Twitter account?  Because as many opportunities as social media outreach may present for a firm, social media is associated with risks. Risks that may outweigh the opportunities, for some industries.

The Risks and Concerns

With social media comes the effect that a company’s operations and employees are more visible.  Not every company desires this type of transparency.  It can make a company more vulnerable and it also informs the competition.  And some firms are discovering that social media can provide a very visible forum for critics and negative comments.

Like most communicators, I consider social media to be a wonderful thing.  But not every brand will achieve phenomenal marketing results with social media.  The effectiveness can be scatter-shot, or unpredictable, depending on the platform and approach.  Because there is a low barrier to entry, large firms must compete for viewer attention with millions of bloggers, Twitter accounts, Facebook Pages, and YouTube channels.  One would counsel managing expectations of potential results, but it can be difficult to form any expectations at all.

Given that, social media still requires an investment of resources.  If not maintained daily by staff with communications and social media expertise, unstaffed and infrequently updated social media platforms can project a negative image of the company, particularly if it is not responding to the customer comments and questions.  Other costly resources that are involved with implementing social media outreach for large firms include IT involvement and legal oversight.

Firms with more than 1,000 employees tend to have the greatest concerns about the risks associated with social media, including the risk of sharing sensitive company information through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.

Other legitimate concerns revolve around the pitfalls of using third-party platforms, including a lack of control (too easy to share inappropriate or confidential information), platform failures, frequently changing features and requirements, and IT security and feasibility concerns (viruses, malware, bandwidth).

There are also legal concerns.  Companies are concerned about the liability associated with employee comments on social networks that may be traced back to corporate IP addresses, a practice that could ostensibly imply condonation on the part of the company.

In addition to other forms of employee misconduct, there are the very real concerns about invasion of privacy and harassment that may occur between employees on social networks.

Every firm must carefully weigh the risks and benefits of participation in social media, and take steps to mitigate possible negative consequences.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on August 12, 2011, in Social Media in the Workplace, Social Media Tips and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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