Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Social Media Really that Risky?

I spent the last few days with many of my Navy Public Affairs friends at our community's annual symposium (for those that don't know it, I'm a Navy Reserve PAO). Social Media was the hot topic and with that comes discussion of risk. Chief of Information, Rear Admiral Frank Thorpe (aka: my boss) encouraged all of us to take the risk and push deep into the frontier that is Social Media.

Social Media carries its own risks, to be sure. But I'm not sure that convincing the boss to simply take on more risk is going to be a winning argument for communicators. I'm also not convinced Social Media is as risky as it feels.

Why? Big companies and the military are risk averse. That's how they survive. Risk is eliminated or reduced to the point where the good from the mission outweighs the bad of the attempt. In a dynamic environment (combat, business, communications, etc.) control reduces risk. The conventional wisdom is that you have to accept reduced control over communications in order to be really good in Social Media spaces.

My earlier post Making the Case for Corporate Social Media I suggested that you get more control with social media than you get with traditional media relations. Take a look:

One of my clients announced it was closing one of five production lines at a plant in Maryland. One of my tasks was monitoring the chatter on Social Media networks. A reporter tweeted that the entire plant was closing and people started to re-tweet that information. Because we were engaged in that environment, we were able to get to that reporter in nearly real-time and correct the message. The reporter sent out a corrected tweet and asked people to re-tweet it. And they did. He also corrected his online story within a few minutes.

We could have just as easily connected directly with anyone and gave them the correct information. Engagement gave us control.

The persuasive argument for Social Media engagement is, "Boss, I have a way to give us better control over our message and our connection to the people who matter to us!"

But, I will admit that there is some romance in the "accept more risk" argument. After all, sailors are intrepid souls by nature. So, if the "control" argument doesn't work this quote may help:

"The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible. But these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore." Ferdinand Magellan

See you on the water.

Bill Salvin