When some companies look at Social Media as a tool for Business, they immediately see a flashing neon sign, reading the words ‘approach with caution.’ While it is a platform for business that is constantly growing, there exists a sentiment of caution among companies, following a few too many Social Media blunders that have negatively impacted on the reputation of brands in the past. That said, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages are top of the priority pile  for many businesses, big and small, when setting out to gain exposure and tap into the prosperous online market.

According to a recent report conducted by Longitude Research for multiline property and casualty insurers ACE Group, 56% of companies across a total of 15 surveyed EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) countries, feel “social media has greatly exacerbated the potential for reputational risk to affect their business.” I, for one, am slightly surprised by that statistic which suggests almost half of the companies surveyed feel Social Media does not increase reputational risk potential. There is no doubt, opinion is divided, yet pretty much every company with an active marketing strategy in 2013 has a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Google+ account. So, is Social Media really that much of a risky business after all?

Social Media Risky for Business

It’s important to understand why Businesses see Social Media as a useful means of promoting their services and engaging with other Businesses and Consumers. First and foremost, Social Media is relatively inexpensive. Activating an account on Social Networking sites is free while promotional advertising costs are relatively cheap. Facebook, a main source of revenue is either shares or ad revenue and the growing profitability of mobile advertising for the Social Networking giant demonstrates how popular Social Media has become, as a Marketing tool for brands.

While most companies will have their Social Media channels, there are few that solely rely on Social Media as the main hub of their Online presence. Social Media channels are typically used in conjunction with a customized website, typically detailing the company’s bio, contact details and most importantly what services they can offer. Realistically, Social Media channels allow the brand to communicate news, updates, offers and galleries – if applicable – with consumers, potential consumers and other businesses, at a much more accessible level than through website management. The portability factor is huge in Social Media Marketing as Businesses can post updates from pretty much anywhere in the world, at any time provided they have a smart device and an internet connection.

Ultimately, Social Media is a cost-efficient and innately accessible platform for Business to use for promotional purposes.

The Pitfalls

For all its accessibility and cost-efficiency, Social Media can come back to bite you if you don’t treat it with adequate care. This is something we’ve seen plenty of in the past and part of the reason why many businesses consider Social Media as a ‘risky business.’ There is also an element of unpredictability in Social Media that makes it difficult to predict how the public, media and other businesses will perceive you. There is always the possibility that the public may interact among one another or provide feedback that can negatively impact your organization’s brand and image, while there is always the risk of employee dissemination of proprietary information that harms the reputation of your organization.

The biggest factor that Businesses often comb over and forget about is the effect of user misconduct and how it can negatively affect the brand. Just last week several brands, including Vodafone and BT, pulled advertising from Social Networking site Ask.fm after it was linked with the tragic suicide of 14-year old Hannah Smith after she received abusive messages from other users. While the situation shows how brands often rush into Social Media Marketing without properly considering the nature of the site they are getting involved with or assessing how beneficial it will be to their brand, it also shows how user conduct can damage the reputation of brands associated with the site.

How to use Social Media AND protect your brand 

The best way to effectively use Social Media for the benefit of your Business, whilst ensuring your brand and reputation is protected, is to establish a Risk Management Strategy that factors in Social Media Risks and how they can negatively impact on your company’s reputation. This starts with reviewing your current policy and making the appropriate changes where required. Consider those connected with the company and move to ensure they are all fully briefed on what the company’s stance is with regards Social Media and Social Media conduct. Designate Social Media duties to certain members of staff and consider preventative measures including personal Social Media usage during work hours and those permitted to access company networks. These are just a number of changes you can consider that will help preserve your brand’s reputation whilst allowing you to reap the rewards of an active and engaging Social Media Marketing Strategy.

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