Is employee-driven social media a risky business?

Social media is driving a significant shift in the way companies communicate internally and with customers. But this dynamic channel causes corporate headaches when employees are unclear on best business practice.

Online internal communications, especially magazines and newsletters, generate an interactive buzz with Twitter and Facebook or Chatter and Yammer, the private social networks for enterprises. A survey by Towers Watson found 56% of employers now use social media as part of their internal communications. Their aim is to build ‘communities’ and a sense that staff and management are one.

Social media also gives employees a voice to represent their company to the outside world. A survey of office workers by Hyphen found that companies could be doing more and offers good advice on using social media to engage the business, promote products and build the brand. But if poorly executed, Hyphen paints a stark picture: “It can also serve as the fastest way to destroy all of that.”

Becoming advocates for your brand relies on positive employee buy-in. Hootsuite’s white paper points out that employees using social media are a company’s best advocates. But a potential problem is the audience knowing whether someone is using social media in an official capacity. There is a risk of blurring business and personal boundaries, especially in language and tone of voice.

In its useful tips on using social media to improve internal communications, consultant Social Media in Business highlights the importance of creating a common language and training everyone in it. A worrying statistic from Hyphen’s survey is that only one in six employees said they were aware of their employer’s social media guidelines.

The potential risks are confirmed by insurance industry analysis. Alarm bells rang as far back as 2011 in a survey that flagged up the fact that nearly half of respondents rated reputation risk from social media as a material risk.

To reap the benefits, companies need to keep pace with the opportunities social media offers internal and customer communications but also anticipate and avoid the likely pitfalls.



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