The risks of Social MediaIf you use Social Media effectively, it can be of great benefit to your business. Although many Social Media ‘disasters’ are greatly exaggerated, there are some genuine risks for you to be aware of.

Here we discuss some of the main risks you need to consider, and how you can help avoid some of the more common pitfalls of Social Media.

For all of these risks, there are simple, common-sense steps you can take to help minimise their impact on your business.

(1) Damage to your reputation

When you ask people why their business isn’t active on Social Media, the potential for damage to their reputation is often one of the main reasons. Many business owners fear that being on Social Media will open them up to potential abuse or criticism. However, in reality, this will only be a real problem if your business gets a lot of complaints from customers. If customers aren’t satisfied with the service they receive from you, they may take to Social Media – which is more public than email – to try to get the matter resolved. If you are suffering a high level of complaints, Social Media is probably best avoided until the issues causing the complaints have been fixed.

Assuming that you have good customer relationships, there is no reason not to give Social Media a try. If you want to ensure that you protect your company’s reputation, some simple steps can go a long way. Basic Social Media training for all staff likely to be involved in managing the accounts, will help them to be more efficient and to know what is and isn’t acceptable when communicating on behalf of the company. You may even want to introduce a specific Social Media policy, which you can refer back to in future if you feel that any staff have used Social Media in a way that reflects badly on the company. There are many sample Social Media policies online, such as this one. If complaints should arise online, simply handle the responses as promptly and professionally as possible, and encourage customers to contact you offline to discuss the problem in more detail.

(2) Unclear ownership of accounts

If your business is planning to start a Social Media presence, one important issue is ownership of the accounts. For example, if one of your employees started a Twitter account and started using it to build a base of followers, they may keep the login details to themselves. In that situation, unless you make it very clear from the outset that the business owns that account, there is nothing to stop them from moving to a competitor and taking the account with them. They could then simply change the username and profile, but keep all of the followers, many of whom could be your existing customers.To prevent this happening, you need to make it very clear to staff in writing that you own all company Social Media accounts and will retain ownership of them if the employee should leave the company. If you have chosen to implement a Social Media policy (see step 1) you may even choose to write it in to that document. A review of any open Social Media accounts and login details should also be included in any exit interviews when people leave the company.

(3) Timewasting on Social Media

If you use Social Media in your personal life, you will know that it can very easily take up a lot of your time. Social Media are mainly free to use, but if your staff are spending a significant amount of their time managing Social Media, the indirect costs could be significant. If you have already written a Social Media policy and had training, this will go a long way to ensuring that your staff don’t waste a significant amount of their time managing Social Media accounts. Either way, you might also want to consider Social Media software such as Buffer or Hootsuite. These are Social Media scheduling tools, which can help you to maintain a regular presence on Social Media, with just a few minutes’ work each day.

(4) Regulation

If you work in a regulated industry, you will also need to ensure that your Social Media activity is compliant with those regulations. Whilst many see this as a potential problem or a reason not to be involved in Social Media, this needn’t necessarily be the case. Regulations usually relate to the way that you sell or distribute your product, but Social Media accounts shouldn’t really be used to just push the sale of a product. Most customers are put off by Social Media accounts that give nothing but sales messages. Instead you should look to share news and information that is helpful to your target audience.

(5) Competitors snooping

You already communicate your marketing messages very openly to the public if you have a website. However, Social Media takes things a step further, as it can involve conducting a dialogue with specific groups or individuals in the public domain. Whilst that can be good because it means your content is seen by potential customers, the downside is that it can also be seen easily by your competitors. One way of avoiding that is to avoid Social Media altogether, but that could mean losing the potential upsides, and appearing out of date compared with your competitors. The answer to this is very simple – avoid very public dialogues with any vulnerable customers that you may lose easily. Don’t worry too much that your competitors can see who your followers are – they won’t necessarily know which ones are your customers, and most competitors will have better things to do that trawl through your profiles.

(6) Libel or slander against other parties

Because it’s very visible, Social Media carries a greater risk of potential libel or slander against other parties. Although Social Media updates can easily be updated or deleted, libellous or slanderous comments can still be damaging. What’s more saying bad things about other people or organisations won’t reflect favourably on you anyway. The simple step to take here is to ensure that any training or Social Media policy that you implement covers these areas and ensures that staff know what to avoid.

(7) Accounts getting out of date

Whilst this isn’t a significant risk, it stands to reason that out-of-date Social Media accounts will reflect badly on your business. So much so that if they can’t be kept up to date, you may be better off not having Social Media accounts at all. The way to avoid this is very simple – talk to your customers to find out which Social Media networks most of them are on, and focus mostly on those. Few businesses will need to be on more than 3 different networks, so it should be manageable to keep those profiles regularly updated.

If your business uses Social Media, you can connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.