Corporate social media policies need to ensure the risk management parts are aligned with the culture
Last night in Brisbane, Australia, I spoke to a group of business people on aspects of social media and risk, as part of a seminar on the topic “Minimising Risks of Social Networking for Organisations”.

I have studied many corporate policy documents in this field and thought I had a fairly good grasp of the issues and how to frame a policy statement. Nevertheless, in preparing the talk, I became increasingly aware that I was having a challenge in identifying general principles and practical guidelines for social media policy generally, and risk management in particular.

Corporate culture key to appropriate social media policy

As I proceeded, I became convinced that an essential pre-requisite for a sound corporate social media (risk management) policy is to identify and delineate the corporate culture, especially about risk and, in this context especially about risk in communications between the workforce and the rest of the world.

It’s a truism that, in business as in life, with opportunity comes risk. A social media policy that does not address risk is never going to be adequate or effective.

But surely every corporation, every organisation, is going to vary in its approach to risk, on a sliding scale from very risk tolerant to very risk averse. So one might reasonably assume that a law firm’s culture in respect of social media will tend to the risk averse end of the scale, whereas an adventure travel company might be more risk tolerant.

I believe firmly that it is not the job of a social media strategist or consultant to tell a company or organisation that it should be more or less risk tolerant. There can be perfectly good, brand-relevant reasons for one company to be comparatively risk tolerant and another risk averse, for instance as between telecommunications companies and energy utilities.

What I might say, though, is that if a highly risk-averse company wants to hold strongly to that cultural value and simultaneously become an active participant in the social media conversation and the social media way of doing business, they must expect to have some real challenges. That could well require a program of facilitated cultural change and adaptation.

In my presentation I used one case study, namely Zappos, which looks to me like a very risk-tolerant company, as exemplified in the company-wide encouragement for employees to have and use Twitter accounts.

Amber Naslund has some great suggestions for risk-averse companies wanting to engage with and through social media without coming unstuck in the process.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).