Shut Up & Listen! Or…Can Social Media Be Risky Business?

Web 2.0 has been the foundation for the rapid expansion of social media and its global adoption. Businesses have seen new technology through the internet, along with mobile, reshape and even create whole new markets. There is no denying Pandora’s box is open but as platforms for social collaborating, communication and sharing expand worldwide should every business be using them? There are huge positives for business large and small and their brands being present in social media. However like anything there are also negatives attached to placing yourself or your business into the public arena in this manner. In fact there are real dangers that a business must consider before and when they get ‘social.’

Understanding Your Brand
Most business have spent a great deal of thought and time in developing their brand, in the case of a large multinational companies perhaps several brands. The intellectual capital invested in these brands can be worth a huge amount and connecting them to any and all social networks could have disastrous results. It’s key for businesses to understand that every social network has its own distinct mix of users, technology, and style which can appeal to certain demographics more than others. Is a microblogging site such as Twitter the right place for a funeral home to interact with its customers? Does it enhance its brand and create trust with potential clients? For example, according to a recent Business Insider report Twitter is beginning to skew towards male users. The same reports states the Facebook has remained predominantly female. If you were a cosmetic brand such as Revlon, understanding the dynamics of each social media network is paramount to having the right conversation with the right tone. This is not to say that organisations you would not normally expect to have a strong social media presence are not seeing and taking advantage of the potential reach that these platforms have. The NZ Police have 11 Twitter accounts currently and have a targeted social media approach that has given a new spin on the traditional country cop.

Ello Ello Ello! The Many NZ Police Twitter Accounts

Ello Ello Ello! The Many NZ Police Twitter Accounts.

There is no doubt that most businesses see the instant allure of jumping in to the social network pool. But they need to be wary of the type of splash they are going to make. Businesses need to be aware of the trust they place on the line when they enter the social network arena, along with the brand reputation that goes with this. Researching and understanding the demographic and style of each network will allow your business to have the appropriate conversations with your customers, delivering the right message at the right time. Which leads us nicely into the next point.

Controlling The Conversation
Probably the biggest risk that most companies overlook  is that social media creates an ongoing conversation with the public, sometimes in real-time. This is not a call a response medium such as radio TV advertisement. To often businesses fail to recognize the two-way nature of these networks and the ability for the public flip an idea on its head. A great example of this, which shows the exact opposite of the experience for the NZ Police, was 2014 campaign across Twitter create by the New York Police dept.  The NYPD called for its followers to upload photographs of themselves and NYPD officers and attach the hashtag #myNYPD. The idea was to show New Yorker’s that the NYPD was a positive and community focused police force. What happened is completely the opposite. Due to bubbling tension between members of the public and some high-profile events involving alleged police brutally. The campaign was transformed into a deluge of poster uploading images of the NYPD using what they considered excessive force.

Not the sort of #myNYPD image they had hoped for.

Not the sort of #myNYPD image they had hoped for.

This is a real lesson for any business that it must carefully consider how or whether it can control the conversation. Not to mention what they will do if they cannot. Simply blocking users or removing post may not be the best policy as the US chain Applebees found out. But sometimes a negative can be turned into a positive. Many companies have used the social media disaster of one company to promote themselves. Recently rapper Iggy Azalea started a Twitter feud with Papa John’s pizza due to a driver giving out here phone number. Rival brand DiGiorno managed to use this PR storm to their advantaged and quickly swooped on the attention. As with all social media, business must remind themselves that these platforms are communities full of collaboration through content and context. Your business must understand this and prepare accordingly.

Governance (security, IP, Employees, legal, automation, hacks)
The last component of risk to cover is Governance, perhaps seen as the easiest. But again looks can be deceiving and many a business has fallen into the trap on not addressing these issues. For a large or even small business their social media presence is in the hands of individuals, sometimes a group or perhaps just one. Whatever the case, the complex areas of IT security, intellectual property protection, automation, free speech and company policies all need to be addressed to ensure that you handle your social media effectively. It is key that a business establishes what its social media policy is up front. This will mean a robust set of internal rules and guidance of who your social media presence is to be implemented. What can and cannot be posted and what the procedure is to deal with specific situations, from angry customers all the way to natural disasters and crisis situations. Along with this business need to understand that employees may well have their own social media presence and that this can place the business in the public eye by associating so policies need to address this too. This may seem like over kill but to often recently businesses have been pulled into social network meltdowns due to employees.

L'Oreal thought it was onto a social media winner.

L’Oreal thought it was onto a social media winner.

During the World Cup held in Brazil in 2014 Cosmetics company L’Oreal jumped aboard a viral piece of social media, as the image of an attractive Belgium fan went worldwide. A modelling contract was swiftly offered and social networks excitedly shared the good luck story. However things turned sore when the young woman posted pictures of herself on an African big game safari, to which the public turned on her for hunting endangered animals. L’Oreal had to move quickly to distance itself from the furore and ending up cancelling her contract and making donations to animal welfare organisations.

However one posted picture can change everything

However one posted picture can change everything

As well as these perhaps ‘unfortunate’ incidents. Businesses must be wary of risk of more premeditated problems. With both employee action and outside hacks being very real dangers that need to be covered of with IT security and internal practices.

In summary social networks offer both large and small business a real opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with their customers and the general public. But in doing so they do open themselves up to the two-way nature of the platform, along with the exchange of control as people respond, share, collaborate and comment through social networks. Balancing the aspects of this and maintaining trust is crucial to an effective and successful social network strategy.

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