Wherever you turn, talking heads are espousing the value of social media. And companies have drank the cool-aid getting on first Facebook and then Twitter. Now “everyone is doing it.” Companies are jumping on the YouTube, Google+, and now Pinterest band wagon without really understanding what that means.
The problem is that too many companies look at social media as almost all upside, when in fact like any digital presence there is a significant potential risk and downside to it too. Who would have thought a few years ago that companies like Nestle, DKNY, Dominos, and United Airlines would have been vulnerable to both grassroots and well organized social media campaigns that could have a significant impact on their brand? And yet they were and each of these resulted in a crisis for the brand.
According to Amber Naslund, social media crisis has three components – information symmetry, significant issue shift, and potentially significant negative outcome. I would call out a fourth in that it would potentially be interesting or important to a large audience.
In 2008 there were ten social media crises, in 2009 there were nine, and in 2010 there were another ten. And these are only the ones that are known about. Because of this, every company that implements a social media strategy should also have a social media risk management program that includes the following three components:
- Listening. Every company should have at a minimum a listening program that monitors the digital space for company mentions or issues that may adversely impact the company. Even if your company isn’t ready to be part of the conversation, the conversation is still happening and you should at least listen in to what is being said.
- Policies and procedures. Every company should have a clear set of social media policies and procedures that cover everything from who is allowed to act and respond on behalf of the company in social media to guidelines on what can be said. But it can’t be a set of policies put in place just to minimize the amount of damages should a lawsuit arise – it has to be real functional guidelines on how to act and react on behalf of the company in social media. And it has to include procedures for dealing with a crisis when it does arise. It also needs to outline a cross-functional governance structure for social media during regular day-today operations and during a crisis.
- Training. From the policies and procedures should come a training program on how to function in a digitally social world. Companies need to train staff on the basics of social media just like you would train staff on HR policies or ethics issues. But it can’t stop there. You also need to train specific staff that will be responsible for handling a crisis should it arise. This should include those roles in management and key external vendors (such as your agency of record and legal counsel) that will be responsible for actually making the decisions during a crisis.
We have been averaging at least ten social media crises per year since 2008 and the numbers are only likely to increase as more and more companies become active in the social space. Companies need to have a social media risk management strategy in place and listening, policies, and training are the foundation.