Controlling the Uncontrollable – Social Media Risks, Part 1 of ??

social media privacy image

Are They Talking About Me?

If you have done any type of engagement with customers on social media, you have inevitably balanced the risks versus rewards. Well, maybe not for your first engagement. When the marketing intern set up your brand’s Facebook page, I don’t think he asked permission or did any weighing. As your efforts matured, it became more of a business. So you started balancing risks versus rewards. Marketers are really good about the rewards, but sometimes the folks with the rose colored glasses don’t appreciate all the risks.

The one thing that lawyers can bring to the discussion is the list of horribles. This is how we manage risk in the legal profession. We look at where others have failed and then give advice to avoid that. Some may also conclude that if I am not doing it wrong, I must be doing it right. Not the right way to look at social media risks, though. If you really want to be social and really engage your customers you need to do the right things. Just because they are the right things. Not because they aren’t wrong. Awkward double negative, but work it through.

As the title suggests, I do believe that social media engagement is uncontrollable. Now, don’t get too freaked out by that. That is also what makes this space so great. The space will surprise you, in good and bad ways. Manage the things you can control and marvel in the things you can not. Social media’s version of the serenity prayer. So what are the risks?


This is the biggest underlying issue with social. While social has unearthed some new risks, it is the speed at which things happen that really multiplies the risks that have already been there.

Word of mouth has always been a risk for a brand. One bad story propagated through friends networks could ruin a restaurant for example. So, restaurant owners as far back as 1120 A.D. ruthlessly managed their reputations. Today is no different, it is only faster. While the customers in Kaifeng, China could only go so far and fast with their comments, customers today on Yelp are just a bit faster. What is your plan to deal with the speed of propagation, or in other words, how will you scale?


When your brand controlled how a customer heard your message, your staffing needs were well defined. While shooting and running a TV commercial is complicated, it was definitely something you could plan for. Social media engagement is not.

If today you are engaging with 1,000 fans on your Facebook wall, are you prepared if tomorrow 100,000 fans are there. How quickly can you scale? This may be a different way to look at speed.

This is something to have in the back of your mind for every campaign you are launching. I have been in a few discussions where I thought an idea wasn’t going to gain any traction. However, in the back of my mind I was also thinking, “what if it’s wildly successful?” You need to plan for wild success. Third party vendors are great to help you with surges. You need to have them on speed dial. You need to scale for both the good and the bad. The bad may go faster, but the good needs to be nurtured, too.

Sentiment Management

What I mean here is have you considered how much you are going to let the tail wag the dog. The folks talking about your social are only a small portion of your overall customer base. What happens when one of them has a bad experience, perhaps justifiably so? If you are in the business of saying no to people, such as a mortgage company, you are invariably going to disappoint people. When one of those people goes and complains, what will you do?

Does the answer change if the person has 3,000,000 followers on Twitter and a huge readership on their blog? Practical answer is probably. Right answer is no.

The lawyer in you may say that it is a small thing to take care of one squeaky wheel, right? Or to sweep it under the rug. You might even be hearing the “it’s just social media, everyone complains” refrain from the rest of your legal team. Be as open with the person publicly as you can. Showing everyone else that you are working to resolve the problem. For companies that have no sensitive data about the customer this is easier. You can deal totally in the open.

If you do deal with sensitive data, you need to be very careful and have well trained people that can show empathy while getting that person to someone who can more fully explain the situation. Bad news will travel fast, but it can also burn out faster. Your sentiment management needs to manage the bad news but also be the good news that slowly carves out your space in the world. Remember speed and scale.

Summing it Up, So Far

This post is getting a bit long, so I am going to break it up. Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this. I am going to talk about user-generated content (stuff), and employees (staff).

The one thing you need to embrace in this space is the speed and scale of it. If you can’t wrap your head around it and communicate that to your leadership, you will be dead in the water. If you think that only bad news travels fast, perhaps you should read this article detailing a study by Jonah Berger. Use this to your advantage, and come back for more risk management tomorrow.


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