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Trojan-horse-shutterstock_95916187_Main-image_300-150x150One of Australia’s leading Online Reputation Management practitioners is on record as saying that the use of social media by staff is akin to letting a Trojan horse into an organisation. Consequently, he says the dangers of social media can come from within the business and are more threatening for brands that have tough relationships with stakeholders and staff.

Gerry McCusker, founder of Engage ORM and author of PR Disasters, warns organisations that reputation risk is present every time a member of staff takes a smart phone to work.

“A smart phone is a mobile recording studio and if staff are in an emotional state – angry, frustrated, depressed etc – control goes out the window if they upload material on to social media sites. Irrationality can lead to PR disasters.

McCusker says the main danger from social media is, ironically, the old heritage media and how they may report on social media content and opinions.

“Local conversations can become global stories. And negative publicity can deplete an organisation’s communication resources and morale.”

He quoted an example where a disgruntled employee conducted a campaign on social media against a manager, which eventually resulted in two employees being sacked and diminished faith in the organisation’s leadership.

In this case the company did not have a robust social media policy, failed to monitor what was said about it on social media and lacked an integrated crisis management plan to handle social media and the resultant fall out in mainstream media.

Mr McCusker warned of the dangers of social media for organisations who have PR or reputational ‘baggage’. He adds that there are no ‘true’ friends in social media. People don’t often express their love for issues-rich organisations, and so social media can easily become a “whinge tunnel". In Australia Facebook has almost 12 million users, Twitter more than two million and YouTube 11 million, so brands and companies must monitor the conversations to track the sentiment about their digital PR.

“Social media is not a second web site. It can’t be used for sales-oriented propaganda. People want to have value-outcome conversations and they want to have those exchange in your space.”

Before setting up social media sites Mr McCusker said some points need to be considered:

  • Is your organisation ready to have frank conversations with the public?
  • Is it resourced enough to have one-on-one conversations?
  • Develop a 6-12month Content Plan for your social media presence to better drive the engagement. It should not just be for taking complaints which is ineffective and results in staff fatigue.
  • Social media sites should be moderated outside business hours. Otherwise a negative post could go up on Friday night, garner support and become a more serious media issue by Monday.
  • The language used by an organisation in social media should not be stunted by corporate lingo or spin soundbites.
  • More than just PR or Comms staff should be trained and trusted to respond to posts on social media sites.
  • Policies have to be updated regularly. For example McCusker points out that Twitter has really only been widely used for a few years and new tools are emerging every few months.

McCusker scotches the idea that social media is the magic bullet for online marketing or digital reputation reminding communicators that: “Only a few organisations or entities are true ‘love brands’; those that are held in high esteem come hell or high water. Most organisations getting into social media can expect to be initially held in tolerable regard, certainly until stakeholders want to express their dissatisfaction. Social media is an ongoing conversation – success in social will owe as much to how the business behaves rather than how much it spins messages.”