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Social media a risky business? It’s actually your comms strategy that’s at fault

9 December, 2015


Despite the abundance of opportunities that social media can offer businesses, some business owners remain fearful of embracing it. The risks of social media for business remains one of the most common topics we are asked about. recently delivered a social media workshop for a client who had concerns about advertising a job on social media, as they had recently made other staff redundant and were worried about potential negative comments by social media users.

Later in this post I’m going to explain why I don’t believe this is a social media issue, but a broader communications strategy issue. First, let’s look at some of the general opportunities and risks of social media for business.

social media sites

What are the opportunities of social media for businesses?

A third of the world’s population (2.206 billion) is active on social media. Two thirds of millennials stay updated on brands through social networks 51% say social opinions influence their purchase decisions, and 46% “count on social media” when buying online. This year, an overwhelming 91% of B2B marketers are using content marketing, and 70% are creating more content than they did just one year ago.

[Sources: We are Social 2015, Content Marketing Institute 2015, Flip Creator 2015]

Our partners at Northern Lights PR blogged on ‘How to measure ROI on B2B social media’, saying “the largest new contracts have come because we were top of Google searches for niche services – such as crisis communications and internal communications – and that is a result of our blog.  We have never done or paid for search engine optimisation work.” – This post is well worth a read. A quick Google search will reveal tons of impressive statistics and examples on how B2C businesses can benefit from social media engagement, but B2B examples are harder to find mainly because B2B businesses have been slower to catch on. But in their post, Northern Lights gives clear examples of opportunities gained and contracts they’ve secured that have emerged purely through being active on social media.

What are the risks of social media for businesses?

Back in 2012, Jonny delivered a workshop on the opportunities and risks of social media in schools, and asked delegates what their main concerns were. While the context is different, the concerns remain the same for businesses too: fear of negative comments, concerns over time management, legal compliance and online reputation management.

Pete Bott, Blacks Solicitors

Pete Bott, Blacks Solicitors

Legal compliance

Let’s deal with legal compliance first. This is simply a case of getting up to speed on compliance law. As a developing aspect of law, there are some grey areas, but a robust comms and data strategy with appropriate employee training should ensure you cover yourself adequately. A good start would be reading our interviews with media law specialist Pete Bott: part one and part two.

Time management

Yes, social media can eat into your time if you let it. But effective marketing means choosing the right communication channels to engage your target market. Where are your customers? If they’re on a particular social media platform, then it makes sense to go to them there. Of course there is a time investment, but if you choose your channels and invest your time wisely (ie set objectives and stick to them, don’t get distracted), then you should begin to see returns.

Set yourself time limits, eg 20 mins max on Twitter max each morning, during which you (a) share one of your own tweets, (b) retweet one of your key target’s tweets with a comment, and (c) start or join in a conversation. The abundance of social media metrics make measuring ROI much easier than for many other communication channels.

Negative comments and online reputation management

For these potential risks, let’s return to the client with concerns about posting a job advertisement.

The concerns cited were all actually strategic communciations/buisness/HR decisions – whether or not to go ahead with something or how to do it – and not issues specifically with social media.

Social is just the channel of delivery, same as an email, press releases, or website page etc. Yes, people can respond immediately, but they could do this anyway even if you weren’t online, simply by posting and sharing through their own pages. By being present and active on social media, you have an opportunity to positively influence the discussion.

If the company decides to recruit, they need to advertise. End of. Whether or not they recently made redundancies is not related to social media at all. By reducing their promotional channels (ie by not mentioning the vacancies on social but using other channels instead), they’re just narrowing the pool of prospective quality candidates, and previous employees could find out about their recruitment activity through other channels anyway.

Instead, the company should mitigate the risk of a big negative conversation on social through proper forward planning, eg by drafting a statement about why they have changed their recruitment/HR policy, and by notifying those affected appropriately and in the right order prior to going public with the news. Employees should also be fully briefed on how to respond appropriately to queries or comments, and there should be adequate processes in place to do this quickly. And choose the right people in your organisation to manage your social media pages.

For a great example of how to do this well, read my blog post on how Petplan turned bad PR into great PR with an integrated internal communications and social media strategy.

Social Media

As long as you are comfortable you have acted with integrity and been honest and upfront about your business decisions and process, there is no reason to fear negative comments.

Problems arise where a business avoids an issue by being secretive, then getting found out – and not having a plan for dealing with it. Only then will you look like you’ve shafted people.

If any of these things are an issue, this isn’t a “social media problem”, but a “communications strategy” problem.

  • What communications faux pas have you experienced or seen?
  • Have you ever complained about a company online? What was your experience?
  • How does your organisation mitigate social media risks?
  • How do you deal with negative comments on social media?

If you’d like help putting together a robust digital marketing and communications strategy, or an employee social media policy, contact us today.

Blog post by Helen Robinson, Head of Marketing at

  • Maria says:

    I don’t think negative comments on social media are something that should be feared at all, as long as you’re prepared to handle them properly. Assuming your business or company isn’t completely crooked and would just be bombarded by negative comments, that is. If you’re scamming people out of money, I suppose maybe you should stay away from social media 😉

    1. Maria says:

      I don’t think negative comments on social media are something that should be feared at all, as long as you’re prepared to handle them properly. Assuming your business or company isn’t completely crooked and would just be bombarded by negative comments, that is. If you’re scamming people out of money, I suppose maybe you should stay away from social media 😉

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