Why is it so many companies and individuals fear venturing onto social media? Does the risk outweigh the reward? Are people nervous of overstepping the mark or has the litany of social media bloopers permanently scarred us?
These were some of the issues we discussed at a panel hosted by the Law Society of NSW on social media risks and opportunity — what to do from a legal perspective. I was fortunate to be invited to join facilitator Kate Allman, Online Editor from The Law Society of NSW, Dr Daniel Joyce, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law & Justice, and Larina Alick, Executive Counsel, at Nine Publishing.
We covered a range of topics relating to social media, including how lawyers can better educate their digital marketing teams about the legal risks of social media, where to start when developing a reliable plan to manage and encourage engagement, and how far your social media policy can go in restraining your employee's use of their social media accounts.
It's worth remembering social media is a form of media and the normal risks related to publication in the media still apply. This includes a range of things like libel, contempt of court, misleading and deceptive conduct, confidential information and the list goes on. Social media is also available in court proceedings and is no different to any other evidence which may be sought.
But should that scare brands and people off? None of the panel felt so, as there are ways to mitigate risk. The first step is to be very clear about two questions:
- Why am I doing this?
- Who is my audience and are they on social media?
If you decide to have a social media presence or have one already, it is worthwhile considering four guiding points:
- Be strategic: Ensure each of your social media profiles has a strategic purpose – don’t create profiles for the sake of creating a profile or simply because some of your competitors have social media profiles.
- Resource adequately: Invest in social media as you would in any other aspect of your communication. Social media is a legitimate, popular channel of communication and presents significant reputational opportunities, but also risks.
- Listen: Social media platforms are valuable and inexpensive sources of intelligence. All too often, we invest in creating and publishing content and not necessarily in gathering and analysing the data generated by interactions with our content. This information can be a goldmine for communication professionals charged with creating and managing reputations.
- Start with a solid foundation: Ensure you have up-to-date social media policies. These policies should ensure your company is represented consistently, they should protect the integrity of your brand; and they should include processes to address reputational risks when they arise.
On the last point, ensure you coach your employees on the policies. Use as many examples as you can find to illustrate how to do it and how not to do it.
From bitter experience, a final tip is to ensure the person who views what goes out on social media and how you respond to tricky matters online is senior. And importantly, they should have the experience to view things through a reputation risk lens. I've seen too many secondary issues created by the ham-handed response to the initial issue.
Information and misinformation travels very quickly on social media. You can reach millions in seconds during a crisis, but it also means your detractors can do the same.