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Is social media bringing out the worst in your company? Here are 4 tips for managing risk.

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Since the introduction of email to the workplace, the line between the personal and professional has become increasingly blurred.

Not only does business communication have the ability to find you no matter how far you are from the office, but conversations that may have once been considered of a personal nature can now have significant repercussions to a consumer brand, an employee brand and potentially your employment contract.

This has been an ongoing concern for organisations and continues to develop in its complexity. As social media becomes increasingly prolific in our day-to-day lives and its search engines more powerful, the potential of a private comment being unearthed and evolving into a serious organisational or even legal issue becomes a norm.

With this in mind, what do organisations need to consider when trying to mitigate these risks?

1. Treat it as a human issue, not a technology issue

Historically, organisations have invested heavily in firewall warfare to manage inappropriate online behaviour: suspect emails are quarantined, social media sites blocked and Internet usage scrutinised.

Besides the fact that today everyone can bypass these mechanisms via the smartphone sitting next to their work computer, a much more important issue remains: it is not the technology that is causing the concern – it is your staff.

Focus only on the technical, and these issues can have serious non-technical consequences including bullying, sexual harassment, crisis management, discrimination, share price impacts and reputation damage.

2. Treat every employee as a potential member of your communications team

When I first began to educate organisations about social media’s ability to blur the line between the personal and the professional, there were very few statistics and case studies relevant to the topic.

However, there was the case of one very large international client, who soon grasped these new ideas when they saw a number of photos of the partnership on Facebook that didn’t particularly support their brand.

The story of Nestle perfectly illustrates how social media channels, when misused, can facilitate a public relations disaster.

It is important for everyone across the organisation to have an understanding of the pervasiveness of these channels and their rights and responsibilities as an employee. Ideally, this should always link back to the organisation’s cultural and business objectives – people generally do not comply to a list of rules that have no context. All staff should be made aware of:

  • The organisation’s social media channels, their objectives, who looks after them and how they can participate (directly or indirectly)
  • The organisation’s social media guidelines and how they look in action
  • What to do if they come across something online from another staff member that concerns them
  • What to do if they come across something online from someone outside the organisation that concerns them (remember an employee does not have to intend to create havoc for their organisation, as in the case of Nestle)

3. Integrate social media awareness into all aspects of the organisation

We all need to hear about a new concept more than once to begin to register it. Employees need to hear about something considerably more times to believe that their organisation is serious about it.

Ensure that guidelines are in place, rolling educational workshops are available and the messages are reinforced across the spectrum of your employee communications plan from induction to newsletters.

Finding some time for teams to explore these issues more broadly will develop a greater understanding around their complexity and positively impact behaviour.

4. Use technology. Wisely.

Last month, Forrester released a research report that looks at the changes within companies as they begin to adopt social technologies. The report found that organisations tend to go through five stages to reach “social maturity”, where “all relevant employees have been trained and empowered to use social media.”

But before reaching this stage, organisations have to assess the risks and benefits of employing a social media strategy, while also considering the measures needed to ensure the company’s reputation stays intact.

Social media monitoring tools and analysis provide the ability for organisations to monitor and identify risks to brand and reputation. They do not replace the approach outlined above, but offer an organisation another avenue to listen to the conversations about their brand – positive and negative.

Use these tools wisely and you can do more than preserve your company’s reputation – you just might maximise it.

Kate Crawshaw is Director, Engagement at Ellis Jones consultancy (www.ellis-jones.com.au). Ellis Jones is an integrated marketing agency with a dedicated online engagement practice.
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