Companies are Concerned about the Risks of Social Media

As blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media tools have moved into the mainstream in a big way, managers at many companies are responding with interest … as well as concern. On the “interest” side, social networking is seen as having great potential for enhancing relationships with customers and promoting brand affinity. But there’s also “concern” that social media has the potential to damage a company’s reputation through the dissemination of information that is unflattering, taken out of context, or simply wrong.

Now, thanks to a July 2009 national survey of nearly 500 management, marketing and HR executives conducted by Minneapolis-based firms Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, we have a more quantitative idea of the collective corporate thinking about pluses and minuses of social media.

Four out of five respondents in the Russell Herder/Ethos field research believe that social media can help build a company’s brand. In addition, nearly 70% see social media as a viable employee recruitment tool, while two out of three recognize its potential as a customer service tool.

But the survey also found that over 80% of respondents believe that social media poses a corporate security risk. Similarly, half of the respondents consider social media to be detrimental to employee productivity.

These findings show that senior company managers are somewhat ambivalent about social media. They see its positive potential … but at what cost? On the other hand, is shutting the door on social media a wise response (or even a viable one)?

One solution to this dilemma is to be found in dusting off an old standby – the employee handbook. In many companies, policies have evolved over the years to cover pretty much every kind of issue – from what constitutes approved and non-approved workplace activities, attendance policies, and conducting personal business during office hours to policies regarding alcohol consumption, gender/age/racial discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Why not incorporate new guidelines outlining the company’s philosophy toward social media and what constitutes appropriate company-related social media activities on the part of employees?

While it may also be a very good idea to conduct meetings or training sessions on social media as well, this a good first step that will give employees a sense of the “boundaries” they should observe when commenting on company-related issues in the social media realm.

The alternative is a “Wild West” atmosphere in which a problem is destined to arise sooner rather than later. And when that occurs, if no formal social media policies are in place, the company will have no cause for defending itself in the court of public opinion – as well as little recourse for disciplining in addition to counseling the employees involved.

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