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When businesses shy away from social media, it’s usually because they are wary of negative press or not being able to control their image as closely as they prefer. And there’s good reason to be concerned. A new survey released by Symantec shows that social media “incidents”, where sensitive information is leaked, have cost the typical company US$ 4 million over past 12 months.

For those that do engage with social media, Symantec wanted to know how they protect themselves from negative consequences of using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other online forums.

 

Social Media: Truth or Consequences?

After surveying more than 1,000 companies across the enterprise with more than 1,000 employees, Symantec found that social media is being used widely, for both business-related (42%) and personal purposes (45%). For companies, embracing social media brings challenges. They know that if they don’t, it can affect their brand’s presence online. Yet bringing social media into the enterprise also presents great risks, especially for companies that are not used to being transparent or willing to let their users get up close and personal.

According to the survey, when it comes to social media, companies fear the following the most:

  • Employees sharing too much information (46%)
  • Loss/exposure of confidential information (41%)
  • Embarrassment/damage to brand/reputation (40%)
  • Increased exposure to litigation (37%)
  • Malware (37%)
  • Violating regulatory rules (36%)

The Cost of Mistakes

Like with any new technology, it takes awhile to get accustomed to how to use it and develop best practices. Implementing social media and successfully integrating social media within a company culture are two different things. Making it work takes practice and commitment.

However, many companies don’t know how to effectively manage their presence across social media platforms and as a result, make mistakes. Symtanec’s study shows that the average company has had 9 social media incidents in past 12 months, with 94% having experienced consequences due to incidents, including:

  • Damaged brand/trust (28%)
  • Loss of organization, customer or employee data (27%)
  • Lost revenue (25%)

The Need to Protect

But social media needn’t be so risky. The study suggests there are several ways to keep companies from suffering consequences of social media mistakes. While many companies consider implementing social media policies (87%) or training employees about social media (86%), less than a quarter have actually done it. Companies know they need to find ways to effectively capture confidential information and prevent data loss, but very few are doing it.

The growing disconnect between having a social media presence and understanding the social media implications at the corporate level is disappointing and discouraging. The perils for not doing social media and for not doing social media well are similar.

Social media doesn’t automatically make a company better at managing its brand. Rather it takes a well-managed brand and organization to harness the benefits of social media.