Social media: HR’s role in monitoring the reputational risks

by Patrice Thomson,Stephanie Zillman23 Aug 2012

There have been many high-profile incidents of organisations failing to adequately monitor social media – the fallout of some failings has been spectacular, and the brand-damage is unquantifiable.

Related article: Vodafone PR crisis over social media rants

How do you tame beasts such as Facebook and Twitter that can potentially ruin your organisation’s reputation?

Deloitte’s Aftershock: Adjusting to the new world of risk management report recognised social media’s standing as the fourth largest source of risk over the next three years, suggesting that the interconnected world of social media is one to which organisations must adjust. Online transactions are instantaneous, public and far more widespread than the sender often plans, leaving organisations open to potential breaches of confidentiality, financial disclosures and subject to rumours that can spread at an alarming rate. “Everybody is walking around with a smartphone, and things can be captured and digitised instantaneously. Once digitised, social media can spread information like wildfire,” Rick Kulevich, senior director ethics and compli­ance at CDW said in the report.

The absolute first port of call for HR is to have a constantly evolving social media policy. “Having a social media policy is not only a must, but until expectations of how to use it become commonly understood, employers should very regularly review their policy until the crinkles are ironed out,” Ellen Flint from Benetas wrote in HC.

Related articles:
Spotlight on social media policy Part I
Facebook firings part II: check your social media policies before it’s too late

The ways in which such unwanted revelations can occur can be as overt as disgruntled employees consciously setting out to cause damage. Yet employees may also unknowingly publish confidential information in an attempt to use social media to become company advocates, or to seek information from peers online about work issues. “It is important to understand what is out there about your own company, about your co-workers,” Ann Ziegler, CFO and senior vice president at CDW said. “Over the next three to five years, the impact of managing data and the impact of technological trends will be key,” she added.

Alarmingly, Deloitte’s research also suggested that most monitoring is only done periodically – be it monthly, quarterly, biannually or even extended to an annual basis. Simply put, many organisations continue to be too slow in responding to the urgent threats that social media presents.

That said, it’s not a one-way street. Companies also have the opportunity to encourage employees to use social media as a form of free company promotion, to foster company innovation and as a forum for interactivity with their current client base, as well as to entice new customers via online discussion. With this in mind, an organisation’s monitoring of social media may well be more inclined towards building its reputation than protecting it.

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