Social Media Risk Management

1 – You have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion

Much as Social Media engagement presents huge opportunities for comparatively little in capital outlay, it’s essential for any business looking to embrace the digital revolution to think about why they’re doing it before simply diving straight in. Listening and watching what your competitors are doing before taking the plunge may seem dull, but it’ll give you access to a live case study, warts and all, and give you an insight into the issues which you’re likely to face once you engage with the online community.

2 – Engage Professional Advisers…and listen to them!

Anyone can set up a Twitter Account and start broadcasting their opinion in 140 characters or less, but it’s important to remember that the internet and social media platforms have a long memory, and what you post may create an unintended and potentially negative legacy for your business and its brand. Getting advice on strategy from experts in marketing, brand, communications and PR is the best way to ensure that you get the most value out of every interaction, and it’s important to remember that social media works best when you interact rather than broadcast. They’ll tell you how to tell your story and promote your brand and its values effectively as well as putting processes in place to be followed in the event of a social media crisis, which amplify problems and turn them “viral” at the speed of opinion.

3 – Your team of Professional Advisers should include a Lawyer

Much as lawyers are often seen as the “Fun Police” when it comes to social media, it’s our job to manage risk and recent research from Deloitte puts reputational risk at the top (actually, second place) of the corporate risk agenda. Lawyers can work with you to put policies in place to ensure that your staff advocates know what’s expected of them online and what will happen in the event of unacceptable conduct, as well as assessing your options in the event of a situation going from bad to worse for reasons beyond your control. The most important advice they may give you is not to make a dispute out of an online disagreement, as the “Streisand Effect” of trying to stamp out unwanted commentary can sometimes leave you looking even worse than before the conversation took an unfortunate turn. They shouldn’t always lead the conversation, but they should be a part of it!

4 – Online conduct has offline consequences

Much as it’s easy to believe that social media and the internet is a digital frontier that’s still to “wild” for its own good, part of truly embracing the risk as well as the reward of social media engagement involves knowing how you can use and object to content relating to your brand, how for you can go when being iconoclastic without being defamatory, what you can say about brands (and what they can say about yours), how you can use personal data gathered from online platforms and what’s going to get individual staff (in very rare cases) arrested. We’ve seen a run of cases which make it very clear that online content can get those responsible for it into serious trouble, and that the Court treats virtual behaviour in the same way as if it had happened in the “real world”. Once you know the risks, and which are likely to apply to your business, you can take steps to minimise them.

5 – Know who you trust with your brand’s reputation, and give them rules to comply with

Employment law applies online as much as it does in the boardroom, so your planning process should involve the implementation of a social media policy not only to set out the consequences of an online-facing breach of employment law leading to further action, but also to make clear when behaviour away from the office will be treated seriously enough to warrant disciplinary action or even constitute gross misconduct and give guidance on best practice when speaking on behalf of your business. A social media policy, up-to-date IT policy and a properly drafted employment contract are your best protection against employment law breaches in the social world, and although they won’t solve every problem they’ll give you a framework to work from.

6 – Online Engagement is Advertising too…and it’s regulated

Many businesses may never have had any contact with the Advertising Standards Authority, but with the extending of its remit to cover virtually all marketing communications in all formats, they may well hear from them in the future. Your marketing materials need to be legal, decent, honest and truthful, and can’t mislead. The ASA’s CAP Code applies to social media content, the adoption of social media testimonials as marketing materials, marketing E-Mails, online competitions and even SMS messages. It’s important to get a handle on what you can and can’t say, as only one complaint from a stakeholder can lead to an investigation, which in itself can lead to an adjudication and the attendance negative publicity if it doesn’t go your way. The ASA can’t fine or sue you save for in very rare and extreme circumstances, but they can censure you in a very public manner and force a campaign down from the online ecosystem, as well as removing paid search results.

7 – Read the small print!

Besides getting to know how the law relating to Social Media engagement works, when you’re reaching out to your audience it’s important to understand the rules which each platform sets for itself and its users via its terms of use and content policies – Facebook in particular changes its terms relating to how competitions may be run frequently, and it’s worth having a checklist for each platform to ensure that your good work doesn’t end up being pulled from public visibility as a result to a change in a platform’s guidelines of which you weren’t aware. Often, the best way to get a quick win when dealing with an online complaint is to rely upon Terms of Use to make your case rather than threatening legal action against businesses who are often based outside the UK. It’s important to understand that you may be on the receiving end of either such a complaint or a reactive change to prevailing wisdom, so keeping up on changes to Ts and Cs is crucial to get the best out of social media and stay on the right side of its providers.

8 – Don’t turn a drama into a crisis

Once you’ve spent time thinking about how to react to a social media problem, fall back on your plan and stick to it. Although you will be expected to respond quickly to a developing issue, there are ways to buy time and make the right response. Trying to delete your mistakes after the fact will only make matters worse, and if you know who should be leading the conversation around responding as well as contributing to it, then you need to start that conversation as soon as possible. Lawyers will work best when approaching the problem hand in glove with management and comms teams, and will help you to make the right decision on who to respond to first and how to frame that response. More serious and mainstream outlets will need dealing with in different ways to less influential followers, but the basic content of that response should be the same even if put slightly differently and not put you in a position where a small mistake can lead to a much bigger legal or reputational liability.

9 – Know your audience, and know how they view your brand

Understanding your stakeholders will help you know what tone of voice to adopt when engaging with them and what they expect of you. Even if you have nothing to say right now, the “conversation that’s happening without you” will still continue, and it’s important to have an ear to it and know what sentiment surrounds your online presence at any given time. Simple steps such as using social monitoring services such as Hootsuite or even more complex products such as Radian 6 will help you to know what conversations your brand is featuring in and how to influence them to better suit your agenda, as well as getting advance word on a situation where your brand is hijacked in ways which you didn’t anticipate or being linked to less-than-positive descriptors.

10 – Love means sometimes having to say you’re sorry

Every now and again, you will have to apologise for something which your business or staff does online. Not every interaction can be positive. When this happens, knowing how to apologise in a away which doesn’t open you up to bigger liability can help to defuse a bad situation and turn public opinion back in your favour. Lawyers and Comms Professionals will help you to say sorry or correct an error in ways which can defuse a problem before it gets worse, and doing so promptly will help to leave those making a big deal out of it arguing in a vacuum. Taking complaints offline and resolving them quickly is one of the key responsibilities associated with the rewards of generating social buzz.


About the Author

  • Steve Kuncewicz

    Steve is Head of Intellectual Property and Media at Bermans LLP. He is also an honorary solicitor and board member of the MPA. He specialises in intellectual property, media and social media law, and has worked mainly in the media, creative, film, television, marketing, advertising and PR sectors. His first Book, “Legal Issues of Web 2.0 and Social Media”, was published in June 2010, and his second, “Legal Issues Of Corporate Communication in the Online World”, was published in July 2011.


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