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Social media provides opportunities for brands to connect with customers and prospects, but that openness and transparency often leaves companies vulnerable to critics.
In the spring of 2012, Deloitte and Forbes Insights found that US executives considered social media one of the top five sources of risk to their companies over the next three years. In the survey, 27% of US executives from businesses engaged in consumer and industrial products, life sciences, health care, and technology, media and telecommunications said social media was a risk. Only the global economic environment (41%), government spending and budgets (32%) and regulatory changes (30%)—perennial concerns for all businesses, especially during a difficult economic recovery&mash;were ranked as even risker.
In its August 2012 study “Guarding the Gates: The Imperative for Social Media Risk Management,” Altimeter Group found that companies considered the top three social networks the riskiest. Of professionals who cited social media risk management as part of their job, including lawyers, social media managers and compliance officers, 35% said Facebook was a significant risk. Additionally, 25% said Twitter was a significant risk and 15% assessed YouTube and other video-sharing sites similarly.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the social sites used by the most people and therefore possessing the greatest reach, each have their hazards. Twitter allows users to easily @mention a brand, drawing attention from company observers. But Twitter posts also spread very quickly, and users can easily retweet a comment or post without checking its validity, allowing a crisis to explode across the service.
Facebook can be dangerous in a different way because a negative post is seen not only by a user’s friends, but also by anyone who goes to the brand page. However, brand fans can also balance out negative commentary with positive posts.
When it comes to the types of risk social media sites pose, reputation or damage to the brand was the top concern. Of respondents to Altimeter’s survey, 66% said reputational damage to the brand was a critical or significant risk. The next biggest concern was the release of confidential information, which 32% of respondents said was a significant or critical risk.
Altimeter’s survey was of professionals who specifically deal with social media risk as part of their jobs. Social media managers may deal with these concerns daily, but other groups within the company that may only participate in social media occasionally should understand the risks and be vigilant when using social sites.
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