This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises. The book (itself part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at http://bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV
From here on out, the chapters get a little long, so we’ll break them into smaller pieces.
Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing
“Not to decide is to decide.”
Harvey Cox, American theologian
There’s a huge opportunity out there for your business. Based on your organizational intentions and the assessments we’ve encouraged you to do, you
have three choices:
- Ignore social media
- Monitor social media
- Engage with social media
Obviously, we think you shouldn’t ignore social media, and a quick review of some of the risks of non-engagement should be sufficient to convince you that you must at least start to monitor social media.
If your business has anything to do with securities or other types of regulation, you can’t afford to ignore social computing. If you have large securities holdings, you may face restrictions on certain types of disclosures. If you aren’t monitoring social media, you may not be aware of disclosures that involve your organization’s staff and which may run afoul of regulations.
Your business may cite regulatory constraints as a reason to avoid getting involved in, or even monitoring, social media activities. Be sure that the risks of this approach don’t outweigh your responsibility to ensure disclosures are proper.
A related issue is reputation management. Your business may not have a formal reputation management effort, but every organization needs to be concerned with the subject. If you’ve ever subscribed to an article clipping service, you’ve been engaged in reputation management.
Social media is one of the largest and the fastest growing forums for people’s opinions. You can’t afford to ignore what people are saying about you online.
Ask these famous brands if ignoring social media was a good idea:
- Domino’s disgusting video 
in which a couple of immature employees with a video camera caused a huge crisis
- United breaks a guitar and the customer gets even with a YouTube video
- Nestlé’s Facebook Fan Page Heist  where people reacted to Nestlé’s heavy-handed attempt to get a critical video removed from YouTube by posting altered versions of the firm’s logo, culminating in a boycott
- KFC and Oprah’s Free Chicken – Winfrey announced that her show’s Website would let visitors download a printable coupon for free Kentucky Grilled Chicken. Web servers were overloaded, and supplies of free chicken were exhausted. Bloggers reported that store managers were turning away coupon-holders. KFC chairman Roger Eaton posted a video message explaining that KFC would not be able to redeem the coupons still at large
There are lots more examples of dumb social media moves in our Social Media Hall of Shame, online at: bit.ly/HallOfShame
Chances are your business has some confidential information, whether it is client records or minutes of sensitive meetings or the like. We’re sure you have policies that instruct staff and others on how to keep this information secure.
At the very least you need to update your policies to cover social computing. But you’ll also probably want to monitor social media to detect any disclosures that do happen. In fact, it’s even possible that failure to do so may leave you open to charges of negligence. Consult a lawyer for information about your responsibilities regarding social media disclosure.
While everything in the following list from New York Employment Law Letter via HRHero.com  may not pertain to your enterprise, many items affect all businesses, profit or non-profit, large or small.
You can face potential liability from employee use of social networking sites or blogging in a variety of ways:
- Slander, defamation, and libel – Your company could be held liable if an employee posts negative statements about another person or a competitor on a Website or blog.
- Trade secrets and intellectual property infringement – The disclosure of certain trade secrets can destroy the “confidential” status of the information, and the disclosure of a third party’s confidential information could lead to an action for trade secret misappropriation or intellectual property infringement.
- Trade libel – Misstatements or misrepresentations about a competitor could lead to claims of trade libel.
- Securities fraud and gun-jumping – Publicly traded companies can face sanctions for securities fraud if material misrepresentations are posted. Any postings plugging the registered company could violate federal securities law.
- Employment actions – Employees may try to sue you for wrongful termination or discrimination if their employment is terminated because of postings that reference personal aspects of their life (for example, marital status or sexual orientation).
- Harassment – Language that is harassing, discriminatory, threatening, or derogatory could prompt a lawsuit.
As the social computing movement gains momentum, it is becoming more and more common that stakeholders expect a response to complaints or other comments made online. Depending on your business, you may not be in this position today, but you will probably be in the near future.
This is especially true if you’ve dipped your social media toe in the water and have a Twitter or Facebook account that you don’t monitor. Being on social media sets up an expectation that you will monitor and respond. As we’ve said before, don’t get involved until you’re ready to make a commitment for the long term.
Despite our enthusiasm, and the probable enthusiasm of some of the people around you, you need to take all this social media stuff with a grain of salt.
At the present moment, it’s very possible that what works online may work just fine offline as well. However, the two environments, while they do track closely on many fronts, are not identical.
The big brands have taken notice of this fact. In a 2009 article in Advertising
Age, Abbey Klaassen talks about the difference between what the general population is interested in versus what Twitter users are interested in:
For example, in the past month [April, 2009], the Twitter community has been titillated by South by Southwest, AT&T, “Lost” and the redesign of
Skittles.com. Missing from the list are things [that] the Communispace and Lightspeed surveys, both separately commissioned on Ad Age’s behalf,
found that the general population is fired up about, such as the AIG bonuses and the bank-bailout plans.
So offline does not equal online, yet.
Given the risks, however, social media shouldn’t be ignored. But it also shouldn’t be treated as the be-all and end-all for your organization. And as time goes on, the growth of social media will continue, and the two worlds will track much more closely. So if you do choose to ignore social media for now, don’t do so for too long.