Few topics on using the internet to drive business have captured the psyche of corporate executives as using social media networks. And while it is true that social media provides many opportunities for corporations to move interactive customer service to the next level, it is important that management look at both sides of the coin. There are risks that the organization must look out for and find ways of mitigating if they are to make the social media experience that much better for the business, its staff and its customers.
First, confidentiality – and this refers to the confidentiality of both sensitive customer information as well as the company’s own classified data. If a business opts to use social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information on new products and communicate with customers, it is important that both customers and employees are made aware of information that must never be posted in the public view. For instance, if it is a financial institution, bank account and credit card numbers should never be posted in public view. The institution must also make it clear that since it has not control over the security of the social networking site, it cannot guarantee that all information exchanged is encrypted.
The second risk is cyber squatting which some refer to as online brand hijacking. Since social media are essentially public internet forums with weak controls over the names one selects for their profile, many businesses (and even prominent individuals) have fallen prey to unscrupulous persons that have gone ahead to create profiles with their names without obtaining prior permission. Sometimes, such action might be covertly sponsored or encouraged by a competitor or it might be simply someone that wants to blackmail the business. If many people treat the fake social media account as representative of the business and the owner of the fake account posts malicious information, then the business’ brand may be damaged irreparably.
A third risk is the lack of control over what members of the public post on the company’s profile. As a public website where businesses pride themselves in the number of fans, followers or friends their social media profile attracts, it is difficult if not impossible to vet who subscribes to the business’ social media profile. So if a subscriber posts information that is untrue, offensive to a certain demographic or that is inconsistent with the company’s ethos, the business has little recourse other than probably cancelling or revoking the subscriber’s membership to the social media profile. And even then, such action has to be taken with great care lest the firm be considered intolerant to criticism.
Another risk is unrealistic demands from customers. Businesses always strive to meet and exceed customer expectations. But any business ability to satisfy its clients is finite and some demands may go beyond what is reasonable. Note that any business is established in for profit so each action must make economic sense. Some customers may take advantage of the public forum that social media provides to make demands on businesses that are unrealistic while hoping that the public glare will compel the business to do their bidding.
Ultimately, businesses can benefit greatly from social media but only when they assess these risks and establish measures to ensure that each risk is appropriately addressed well in advance.