How to safeguard against social media risk

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Social media can expose business to risk. If not managed properly, considerable consequences may arise causing perhaps lasting damage.

Social media provides SMEs with many opportunities to communicate with customers, provide customer support, strengthen relationships and build brand awareness. These are valuable to any business and offer many advantages in the long term. At the same time, social media exposes business to risk. If not managed properly, considerable consequences may arise causing perhaps lasting damage.

Social media risks can be loosely classified as follows:

Reputational Risk:

Damage to brand and image can occur easily. Whether it’s employee bad behaviour or damaging customer service from the employer, business needs to ask “how protected are the company’s brand and reputation?” There are plenty of examples which illustrate negative social media publicity. Business needs to be proactive to stay on top of this.

Legal Risk:

Such risks take many forms; from accidental disclosure of confidential information to defamation and false and misleading content from third parties, business needs to comply with laws and regulations. More and more organisations are being held to account for third party comments as decisions from both the Federal Court of Australia and the Advertising Standards Board show. Business needs to be practical and realistic when it comes to legal risk as this can have severe consequences.

Operational Risk:

It is essential that organisations know how exposed they are to disruptions to its operations which may occur from viruses or malware.  Just as the Internet and email pose risks so too does social media.  Business needs to monitor these risks and keep up to date with their IT security.

What is important to note with these risks is that they are no different to the offline world. They have now just progressed to social media as well. As social media becomes a more required part of business, navigating these risks is fundamental to safeguarding business.

The most effective way to manage risks is a social media policy which is enforced together with employee training and education, which is ongoing. A policy must be tailored to each individual business to cater for diverse values and beliefs and different industries. As well as minimising exposure to risk, a social media policy provides the opportunity to deliver guidelines to engage in social media. It can empower team members to responsibly use social media to obtain the organisation’s strategic goals.

Even if business does not use social media for their marketing, they still cannot bury their head in the sand as employees still interact with social media outside of work. Social media is not separate from what we do; it is part of the connected world we live in, where listening, sharing and transparency are expected. Although social media is complex, the risks are genuine and can be quite expensive and embarrassing to recover from. That is why a social media policy plus ongoing training of staff is one of the most effective models for governance that business has.