There are a number of benefits for brands that build an engaging presence on social networking sites. Businesses that succeed at social media marketing are able to create unofficial brand ambassadors that are genuinely excited about their products and services and willing to share them with family and friends. But there are also several obvious risks for brands using social media to connect with customers. From illegitimate pages and pornographic avatars to brand attacks of a political nature, companies are often faced with a number of challenges when they take their marketing efforts online. Due to the sheer size and ever-changing nature of social networks, these issues can be difficult to track and regulate. If they aren't dealt with quickly, brands can lose customers and their reputations can be adversely affected.
How should companies manage risk? After all, participation in digital forums is no longer optional for businesses that want to grow. But managing the risk exposure of your brand can be a full-time job and the vast majority of companies are unable to staff accordingly. Experts in the risk management industry have the following recommendations for companies looking for ways to protect their brands on social media.
Implement a social media usage policy for staff and audiences
Anyone can create a brand profile online. A common case study, especially for small to medium-sized businesses, is that a well-intentioned member of your marketing team might think that they are helping spread the word about your business by launching a branded Twitter account. But there are a few inherent issues with this approach if accounts aren't part of a broader social media strategy or provided oversight for brand consistency.
One common issue is that it can be confusing for potential customers who may be getting conflicting messages from multiple brand profiles. Dan Nadir, VP of Product Management at Nexgate, a social media and brand protection company says that, "Despite having good intentions, the content that's posted on an unofficial account may or may not align well with brand messaging. Even worse, completely fake brand accounts are frequently created that attempt to embarrass the brand or defraud unsuspecting customers."
In other cases, like the recent US Airways Twitter debacle where an employee accidentally tweeted a pornographic image to an unhappy customer, shared content is harmful and embarrassing. Similarly, it is important to have guidelines for the audience or community you are allowing to share content on your accounts and pages. For example, having a link to an acceptable content use policy on your company's Facebook page should be required and allows your brand to be clear about content that can and can't be shared. That way, in the scenario where an audience member comments on a Facebook post with an X-rated image or a link to one, it is clear why it may be deleted. For companies interested in protecting their brand online, the first steps are to implement and enforce a social media usage and content policies for staff that regulates personal use while on the job, branded account use by employees, and content policies for the audience of branded accounts.
Be proactive and diplomatic when handling customer issues
There have been countless media reports of companies behaving badly on social media, from community managers deleting customers' posts and team members responding inappropriately to customer concerns to robot tweets from well-known brands. One recent example is a large bank that came under fire in 2013 for auto-posting generic responses to Twitter users.
When it comes to handling customer issues online, it's important for company employees to be well trained and diplomatic with their responses in order to effectively protect the brand. Deleting customer complaints and replying with robotic responses that aren't addressing the issue can do more harm to your company than good. The most effective social media policies include a clear chain of management and escalation, for when front-line marketing or customer service staff don't have an understanding of what to do.
Monitor potentially damaging scenarios
Another issue that businesses need to be aware of is the world of negative SEO: when others create social media pages or profiles with the intention of harming your business. Nadir says, "It takes just minutes for someone to start up a fake business account. They can reach out to fans with the promise of special discounts if they provide their credit card information."
That's not the only issue that brands need to monitor. Another common problem is social media users with pornographic avatars posting content on unsuspecting company pages and even posting pornographic content on the account. Twitter revised their terms of service in 2009 to help keep pornography out of users' profile pictures, but it's still a lingering problem on many social networking sites. As a result, businesses are looking to use content moderation solutions that identify and filter out content posted by users with pornographic avatars or pornographic content itself. Nexgate has paired up with UK-based image scanning technology provider Image Analyzer with the intention of extending their image analysis capabilities to provide the broadest coverage for automatically keeping pornographic content from showing up on clients' blogs and social media accounts. This technology approach will provide the speed, scale and efficiency in content removal that frees moderation teams and services to focus on real customer and community engagement versus burning time and service fees on reviewing and handling obviously bad content.
There are countless benefits for companies that choose to add social media to their marketing toolkits, but there are also a number of risks. In order to help mitigate risk, businesses need to be proactive about social media usage policies and staff training. It's also important to handle customer issues professionally and monitor potentially damaging issues. But for most companies, the benefits outweigh the risks. Nadir says, "Unlike many other channels, brands have the ability to target their customers very specifically. They can really focus in on getting specific messages to certain groups and then creating and fostering real engagement with those individuals or groups."