A maturing aspect of the internet, social media can be as much a business enabler as a significant, and arguably not easily quantifiable risk. Its growing adoption is a cause for concern for organisations wishing to reap the many benefits while managing the myriad potential pitfalls.
Today, all organisations have a social media risk exposure and managing the possible threats is becoming increasingly important as messages good and bad can spread so quickly in our hyper-connected world. Financial institutions have had to shut down social media forums, stock markets have shuddered, and countless businesses have suffered brand damage in the wake of the mighty new media platform that gives the lone voice a tannoy with global reach.
Usage of the social networks is growing – quickly. According to figures cited in a 2014 Accenture paper, A Comprehensive Approach to Managing Social Media Risk and Compliance, the total number of social network users is currently estimated to stand at 1.73 billion (or about a quarter of the global population) and is expected to reach 2.55 billion by 2017. The same report puts the number of active Twitter accounts for business at 77%; 70% have Facebook pages and 69% YouTube accounts.
There are many opportunities to exploit, but to do so, the risks must first be identified. One such risk lies in the use of social media for customer complaints.
Figures from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) serve to illustrate this point well. It says one in four users in the UK alone used a social media platform to make a complaint between February and May this year, for instance. It also suggests that if traditional methods for voicing dissatisfaction are not effective, 12% of customers will use social media platforms to escalate their complaint – representing a sharp climb from the three per cent of consumers indicating that they used social media to complain just months before.
That same report does hint to the positive side of this channel of engagement, however, going on to suggest that 64% of users described their interactions positively. But it is the 14% that suggest it was not that is the potential cause for concern. CIR’s own research into the threats from social media corroborates this, showing reputation as the most pressing and serious issue among readers from across the business risk management spectrum.
Jo Causon, CEO of the ICS, believes social media is not just a necessary component of a credible customer service strategy but one that offers powerful insights that drive better innovation, cocreation and collaboration. “To make this a reality,” she says, “social media needs to be a central part of a coherent, sustained and long-term focus on customer service strategy, something that many organisations are yet to do.”
The ICS recommends that companies strive to reduce response times, find ways to ensure around-the-clock service via social media and take responsibility for dealing with queries to avoid potentially highly publicised reputational damage – representing a clear competitive advantage over capabilities among slower adopters.
In today’s bustling online community, the lone voice has never been so potentially powerful, with the networks and technology together creating a sometimes self-perpetuating ‘digital memory’, keeping any hint of scandal close to the top of the search engine. As ever, prevention is key. But when analysing vulnerabilities to social media risks, some companies may find their policies governing the use of and access to data to be outdated, or at least weak.
Analysts at Accenture advise companies to identify, assess and manage the risk and then report this up to a social media risk manager, responsible for consolidating the information, escalating any issues and then auditing the processes being used by the various functions. It also stresses the importance of instilling a riskaware culture – one in which people at all levels instinctively look for risks and their impacts when using social media.
It recommends that businesses consider how social media activity can expose the organisation in terms of business, regulatory, legal and market risks, and in particular as it pertains to crisis management, where timely reaction is key. Used well, social media can elevate a brand. Badly used, however, it can exacerbate a product recall or other crisis, and create an even greater problem than existed in the first place. And sometimes in just as few characters.