Facebook, the world's most-used social network, celebrates a decade of "likes" this year, and Twitter turns 8. While both products have matured into go-to business tools for companies to market their products and handle customer service, challenges remain for firms in heavily regulated industries and for any company that does not want to tarnish its carefully crafted brand.
Social media management and compliance tools are promising approaches that allow companies to stay within the law but still communicate with customers. Experts say tools alone are not enough to prevent a social media faux pas-a solid social media management strategy is paramount. The evidence suggests that businesses are in the early stages of social media risk management. Social media for business may not be the Wild West any longer, but it takes prudence to stay on the right side of the law.
EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL MEDIA
A decade is a long time in internet years. Social media networks have bloomed (such as YouTube and WhatsApp) and faded (such as Myspace and Friendster), but possibly the most salient change in their usage has been the way that businesses have come to depend on them. "Social has moved over that course of time from being something that was completely about people connecting with other people to being a more primary communication channel for organizations to audiences," says Devin Redmond, co-founder and CEO of Nexgate, a provider of social media management software. "And that's not dissimilar with a lot of ‘consumerized' channels, where they kind of start with people and then they move from businesses leveraging them to connect with people."
"It's hit critical mass now," says Ragy Thomas, founder and CEO of Sprinklr, another provider of social media management software. "Ten years ago, most brands had some followers; now you look at a top 1,000 brand, and you can have 40 million people in their social audience. People don't want to call; they just tweet and want a response."
Social media engagement has hit critical mass for Intel as the company has many teams across different departments crafting the firm's social messages and listening to conversations about the brand. It's quite a change from a few years ago, says Mike Armstrong, a digital/web marketing specialist at Intel, when social was a small part of the company's marketing efforts.
"Intel's approach has changed significantly over the years," he says. "Initially, we started out with a pretty small team of people managing our social presence. As the value of social media engagement increased for brands, we implemented an internal training curriculum for employees to take to learn best practices in engaging with these new channels. Overall, there has been a seismic shift in how we integrate social into our holistic digital marketing strategy. Social media has increasingly given us the ability to listen, learn, share, influence, and change how we operate internally in order to stay relevant."
Companies are also concerned about what their employees are posting, tweeting, and blogging about their brand. And yet, this concern rarely leads to direct action against an employee, even if he writes critical things about his employer, says French Caldwell, a VP and Gartner Fellow at Gartner, Inc. who covers social media strategy, risk management, and compliance.
"There's a reluctance to monitor employees' social media use," he says. "The National Labor Relations Board says there are certain protected actions for your employees ... mouthing off or complaining about something about management at your company on their Facebook page, Twitter, or a blog post-that may very well fall into the category of protected actions."
‘WORST #FAIL EVER?'
Monday, April 14, 2014, was not a good day for the US Airways social media team. One of its employees, responding to a customer who wanted to complain about the airline's service, inadvertently tweeted a link to a lewd image on the company's main Twitter feed. The airline removed the offending tweet as soon as it realized its mistake, but the gaff quickly became headline news. After apologizing via Twitter, the company didn't resume tweeting for 3 days.
"Is US Airway's tweet the worst #fail ever?" asked a caption in a CNNMoney story on the incident, wondering if it was the worst corporate tweet ever. Even though US Airways didn't break any laws by accidentally retweeting the image, the cost to its brand is hard to tally.
The mis-tweet didn't have to happen, according to Redmond and Thomas. Both men say their products, properly configured, could have stopped the lewd tweet.
"This is a nightmare," says Thomas. "Some brands have 10, 20, 30 million people in their social audience. Would you ever air a TV spot without going through an approval process? How is this different? This is your brand!"
There are at least two ways that the company could have prevented the tweet, Thomas says. One is by using an approval process, which Thomas recommends for companies that respond to customer service issues via social media. Once a representative finishes responding to a tweet, the response is queued for review by another employee, who has the authority to publish or modify the tweet.
The second prophylactic way to prevent social catastrophes would have been to preview the tweet before it was published, says Redmond. "We have the capability to precheck content, so you could go ahead and put up the content-including the link to that image-and we could have reviewed it and said, ‘Hey, don't put this up. This has got pornographic content, and you don't want that up on your site,'" he says.
Once the tweet was live, it still would have been relatively easy to remove it almost instantaneously using Nexgate, says Redmond. And in case an employee didn't come clean about making the mistake, trying to determine who posted the image would have been easy with Sprinklr, Thomas says. "After something like this happens, it's one click within Sprinklr to see what happened, who posted it, when they posted it, what IP address, and what image was selected from the library," he says.