Imagine this. You’re about to head home when you receive a call that regulators are on their way because one of your insurance agents has violated regulations in some content he shared on Facebook. What if you were informed that while responding to a customer service complaint, an employee tweeted out a pornographic image? As some of you are probably aware, this was a real-life incident for US Airways in April 2014 resulting in international headlines after the tweet was retweeted more than 13,000 times – I’m sure we don’t need to delve further into the level of reputational damage this did for the brand.
As marketers, this should keep you up at night. We’ve reached the stage where there’s no denying the importance of social media, with over 1.08 billion active social media users in Asia Pacific accounting for more than half of all social media users worldwide, there are clear benefits for organisations across areas like marketing, customer service, sales and recruitment. At the same time, we must recognise the potential risk behind social media and the impact it can have on your business.
What Are The Risks?
Early last year, Forrester Research conducted a survey where they categorised social media risk into five key areas: brand and reputational risk; information security risk; legal and regulatory risk; operational risk; and privacy risk understanding the key concerns in the industry. It’s important to remember that these risks, while ranked in order of concern of the companies surveyed, don’t necessarily remain in any single category. Incidents can manifest and develop from one risk to the next, leading to even worse repercussions.
Why Should You Care?
Speaking to the business decision makers here in Asia-Pacific, I’ve found that most still have a mindset that the risks associated with social media are few and far between, believing that it would never happen to their organisation and that they’re almost immune.
There are three key reasons why this is not the case, but of course, don’t let me limit your imagination. First, as your organisation grows, so does the need to provision access to more employees. Each new employee is a potential mis-tweeted land mine waiting to happen. With the dynamic nature of social, legal and regulatory bodies have also struggled to keep up and are constantly playing catch-up altering policies leaving marketers open non-compliance should they not be vigilante and aware of these risks. Finally, your digital brand in the social arena has become Pandora’s box of problems; introducing countless touch points which could go terribly wrong.
How Can We Manage Social Risk?
With that in mind, organisations must work out the best way to manage and reduce this risk. The model that I’ve found easiest to understand, adopt and implement comes from the Altimeter Group following a four-step loop which is followed systematically and continuously.
Risks first need to be identified, especially the existing risks which already surround your brand. Conducting regular and consistent social listening will help provide full insight into what is being said about the brand – zeroing in on negative sentiment chatter such as customer complaints. Beyond this, an exercise examining past or current incidents which have impacted other brands can help identify potential risks and scenarios which your organisation could take precautions and preventative action around.
Once you’re aware of which risks are present, establishing an assessment framework allows you to understand how you should approach them. The evaluation process involves an examination of the likelihood behind each risk happening as well as the impact it may have. Some risks may be lead to brand damage, while others could halt business operations or probably the worst outcome, legal risks which costs your organisation millions in fines. Assessing risks allow you to prioritise efforts for mitigation.
Mitigation is perhaps what most organisations will need to spend the bulk of their time and resources doing. Putting together a decision tree which determines which factors can or cannot be controlled in order to reduce the likelihood and impact is the first step. The second component involves putting together the correct governance; establishing the roles and processes needed to manage social media risk. While social media teams and hence marketing typically leads this, it’s important to involve other departments including legal, human resources, IT, communications and risk teams as needed. These dedicated resources and teams must operate to a set of social media policies which achieve a balance between drawing the line but still allowing the organisation to truly be social. Once this balance is achieved however, most companies fail to provide regular training and guidance around the implementation of these policies as well as general education on the ever changing nature of social. The underlying piece supporting the mitigation process is the deployment of appropriate tools. Such technologies can add a layer of automated filtering and safeguards as well as archival structures for the organisation.
The final piece to close the loop and continue the cycle is to monitor – constantly and consistently. Social media doesn’t stop, conversations will continue to happen around your brand and potential risks will continue to arise so making sure your organisation is on top of this is crucial.
As social media grows both globally and within the region, the risks will only continue to grow. As an organisation, you can no longer sit back, cross your fingers and hope to dodge the bullet. Recognise the risks and understand that a structure and plan needs to be put in place, one which is an ongoing process and continues to evolve. Most importantly, as with anything you do in social, don’t lose sight of why your company is doing this – it’s to build better, deeper customer relationships.
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