Social media provides companies with a wealth of opportunities to increase visibility, improve consideration, strengthen internal communication, and accelerate innovation. But, as entities as diverse as Mannings, Dolce & Gabbana, and the HK SAR government have discovered, social media can also come with a nasty bite.
And the more deeply social media is adopted within and across organisations, the more exposed they are to risks that may damage their reputations. Research shows that business leaders now view social media as a top 5 business risk, with the top risk of social media being to reputation.
What can organisations in Hong Kong do to limit the threats to their reputations through social media? Here are five actions that can help safeguard corporate and brand reputations:
1. Understand the business context
Social media is now being used for a wide variety of purposes, from PR and marketing to HR and product development.
To get a handle on the risks facing any organisation, it is first necessary to understand how social media is being used internally - to what extent are employees aware of existing social media governance, how well is it being complied with, and to what extent is confidential or potentially damaging information being passed between employees on internal networks such as Yammer?
And, using a tool such as K-Matrix, what is being said on external social platforms about the company, its products and industry?
2. Assess reputation threats
Having understood an organisation's current online reputation, it is possible to identify, assess, and prioritise potential threats to its reputation, from 'traditional' reputation risks such as poor quality products or customer care to threats directly related to one's participation - or lack of participation - in social media.
Here it is essential to take a comprehensive view, considering a broad range of risk types: strategic (eg. analogue leadership), operational (eg. loss of productivity), behavioural (eg. employee sharing of inappropriate views), informational (eg. activist hijacks of social media accounts), and legal & regulatory.
3. Mitigate social media risks
With the threats prioritised, it is possible to develop a practical plan to head off the most immediate and damaging of these threats.
While social media risks vary by industry and organisation, typical measures to limit their likelihood and impact include strengthening internal controls for information access and distribution, strengthening employee induction and departure processes, developing or improving social media governance, ensuring that social media resources are appropriately spread across the organisation, and installing social media platform management and control technologies.
4. Manage reputation in real-time
Many organisations continue to approach social media primarily as a push marketing tool, neglecting to engage in the dialogue that already exists about them online or that inevitably occurs as a result of their business actions and marketing activities.
To protect reputation effectively, it is essential that negative conversations are managed in real-time across all relevant channels, both official and third party, in order to lessen the chance of their escalating into significant incidents.
This requires close listening and experienced, well trained staff. Social media left to interns or outsourced to agencies has resulted in much egg on too many corporate faces.
5. Prepare for and get on top of crises
While the great majority of the negative issues being played out online have negligible impact on corporate or brand reputations, when they do escalate they do so quickly and can cause significant damage.
With social media now playing a central role in crises, entities of all types now must reconfigure their crisis plans and teams to ensure that they are suitably prepared to manage and recover from a major incident in full public view online.
Charlie is the Workshop Leader for the Social Media Risk & Reputation Management Workshop.
Social Media Risk & Reputation Management Workshop
Regal Hongkong Hotel, Hong Kong
29 – 30 May
Click here to register.
Organizer: Pacific Conferences
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Charlie Pownall is Managing Director of communications consultancy CP/C & Associates, and Chairman of the Communications and Marketing Committee at The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.