Risky (Social) Business

A new study released by the Altimeter Group helps companies identify, manage, mitigate and even prevent the risks that come with embracing social media.

What might leak out? A new study by the Altimeter Group helps companies identify, manage, mitigate and even prevent the risks that come with embracing social media.

Are you a little nervous about starting up social in your organization? Do you worry that you might be exposing your firm to new and unknown risks, and that by giving up control you’ll be vulnerable to posts, discussions and unauthorized information releases that could potentially damage your firm?

If so, you certainly are not alone. And while we are certainly proponents of integrating social into the enterprise,it’s also true that there are real and legitimate concerns facing firms that are considering doing it — or have come to realize that social is already underway in their enterprise.

The good news? While such concerns are valid, there are relatively easy ways to identify, manage, mitigate and even prevent risks. These strategies are laid out clearly in a new study released on August 9 by the Altimeter Group, titled “Guarding the Social Gates: The Imperative for Social Media Risk Management,” written by Alan Webber with Charlene Li and Jaimy Szymanski.

According to Altimeter, social media risk can be defined as:

The likelihood that a negative social media event will happen X (multiplied by) the impact that negative event will have if it does happen

Some of the key findings in the study that we found to be most compelling:

  • Two thirds of companies surveyed say that social media is a significant or critical risk to their brand reputation; however, previous research by Altimeter found that 60% never train their employees about their corporate social media policies, or do so only upon initial hiring.
  • The biggest concerns revolve around brand reputation; release of confidential information; legal, regulatory and compliance violations; and identity theft/brand hijacking.
  • The major sources of risk that companies say they are most concerned about are the “big three”: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

One of the features of the report we appreciated was that it not only identified these concerns, but then went on to provide very detailed instructions on how to avoid having these risks turn into full-fledged crises. While the report provides very specific step by step advice and process charts on how to do this, the overall approach is as follows:

1. Identify the risks
2. Assess the risks
3. Manage and mitigate the risks
4. Monitor and evaluate

Who in the organization was called on most often to do this work? The study found that it was “the social media team” followed by Corporate Communications.

There’s a final bit of advice in the study that we’d like to echo. While it is important to get a handle and address the risks of social, it would not serve the effort well to go overboard and implement severe, unreasonable or heavy handed policies on employee communication. After all, the benefits of social business come about when people have a clear and easy path to communicate — and can do so in a relatively unencumbered way.

Altimeter’s research was based on a quantitative survey of 92 professionals as well as qualitative interviews with 36 companies. The interviewees in those firms represented functions such social media managers, compliance officers, lawyers and chief security officers, among others.

You can download the report, free in PDF format, here.

For a broader discussion of effective risk mitigation and management, also see the 2010 MIT Sloan Management Review article “How to Manage Risk (After Risk Management Has Failed),” by Adam Borison and Gregory Ham.

1 Comment On: Risky (Social) Business

  • aewebber33 | September 2, 2012

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for blogging about my report. It is critical that that companies understand that social risk management is a balance between risk management and engagement – Too much risk management and there is no engagement which we have seen in many of the regulated industries. Too much engagement and companies are caught unaware and unprepared like Bank of America and Progressive Insurance. Companies definitely need to to pay attention to both the benefits and risks of being a social business.



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