I’ve been reading a bit about risk lately, and in particular the risk of using social media.  The first thing that caught my eye was an eMarketer study into which networks posted the biggest risk.

Now suffice to say that the networks themselves don’t pose a threat, so it is instead looking at how likely people are to post the wrong thing, and for that wrong thing to then spread like wildfire, shredding your good name along the way.

A badly chosen word or an inappropriate joke and suddenly a short social media post is headline news and not in a good way.

And it seems Facebook worries executives most of all.  The fear largely eminates from the size of the network.  When you have the ability to reach the world and his wife, the downsides are just as ominous as the potential upsides.

Managing risk on social networks

So if Facebook scares executives the most, what can they do about it?  Charlene Li and the Altimeter Group have recently published a guide to managing risk on social networks that could provide the answer.  The full document is embedded for you at the end of this post, but I’ll summarise the main findings for you here.

They’ve broken down social media risk management into four stages:

  1. Identify the risk- First things first you have to identify the risks you face.  These could be a risk to your brand, a leaking of confidential information, legal violations or identity theft.  Altimeter found that the most common threat was to a companies brand, but if you investigate potential sources of risk you may come up with something more specific to your own situation.
  2. Assess the risk - Next you have to assess how likely that risk is to do you damage.  It’s basically a bit of probability analysis.  Couple up the likelihood of a risk happening with the damage it would do if it did occur to give you a decent understanding of the risks you face and the damage they can do.
  3. Manage and mitigate the risk – The next step is to deal with the risk.  You might be able to eliminate it completely (unlikely) or you might be able to reduce the odds of it occuring, or indeed mitigating the damage should the worst materialise.  Common strategies here include providing outstanding training on how staff should behave on social media and what you expect from them when they use it.
  4. Monitor and evaluate the risk – As with most things like this, you should never be completely satisfied, so the final step is to regularly review and regulate their existing risk strategies to take account of both the success of the current strategy and the changing landscape within which they operate.

As Bilbo Baggins famously said, “it’s a dangerous business going out of your front door”, and it’s impossible to live a life devoid of risk.  Social media offers organisations tremendous opportunities to engage with their customers better than they ever have before.  There are risks involved, but one risk that Altimeter don’t identify is the risk of doing nothing and not taking advantage of this opportunity that social media provides companies.  Hopefully more documents like this will help to educate executives on how they can take a sensible approach to risk and get stuck into the social media world with real gusto.

Let me know in the comments how you’ve managed risk in your own work environment.  Oh, and here’s the report I promised you.  Enjoy.