The Benefits and Risks to Businesses

The growth of social media has led to the most monumental change in the way we do business since the creation of the Internet.

The likes of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and blogging have given businesses of every size unlimited access to a huge new untapped marketplace of potential customers (Facebook alone has more than 500 million users). Social media also offers businesses the opportunity to communicate with existing customers in new ways, such as videos, blogs and fan pages.

An example is General Motors’ ‘Fast Lane’ blog written by company executives, which provided them with free feedback from customers that would have cost the company $180,000 a year using traditional focus group research.

But along with advantages to business come risk, and business managers and employees need to be aware of what the risks are with social media in the workplace and how to deal with them effectively. One way to achieve this is to undertake risk management training in order to raise awareness of the potential pitfalls of utilising social media.

Low level risks associated with social networking include issues such as loss of productivity due to employees socializing on company time and the consumption of company bandwidth to the detriment of legitimate business usage.

But these risks are comparatively minor when compared with high level risks such as exposure to Malware (viruses and the like) which can corrupt or destroy vital business information and Spyware, which can compromise sensitive information such as business plans, customer details and even bank account details.

Equally dangerous is the threat to your business reputation, which can be harmed by unauthorized and unregulated references on social media sites.

An example of this was the Domino’s Pizza store in the USA, where staff embarrassed the company by posting an inappropriate You Tube video. The response of Domino’s President to the video highlighted how negative publicity can be turned into an opportunity. His used the same forum to effectively distance Domino’s from the prank and salvage the company name.

There are a number of ways in which your business can manage these risks. The first thing to do though is to undertake a risk management assessment of your business social networking and identify where the risks lie and what business information is the most vulnerable. Risk management courses can provide the necessary education to do this effectively.

Once you have identified the areas where your business is most at risk, you need to set about controlling the risk factors. This could involve measures such as developing internal policies, upgrading to the latest protection software, restricting social media access to certain employees, and educating staff on how they can avoid exposing your business to harm.

Actively monitoring what is being said about your business online is also a long term strategy that can pay dividends, not only in damage control, but also by providing insights into possible future marketing strategies.

Social media is growing exponentially (it now accounts for about 1 in every 6 minutes people spend online) and yes, there are risks to those who jump onboard, but by far the biggest risk to a business is to do nothing. By not embracing the incredible business opportunities social networking has to offer, you risk being left behind and withering on the vine.