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Most firms unprepared for a social media crisis: Risk summit panel

Most firms unprepared for a social media crisis: Risk summit panel

NEW YORK — Despite its ubiquity in corporate communications and marketing, a startling percentage of companies has no formal strategy for addressing the liability exposures and reputational risks associated with social media, experts say.

All but three of the 75 industries represented in the Fortune 500 use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, yet less than 40% of companies have implemented an internal policy governing employees' use of social media and setting out an organizational response plan in the event of a crisis, panelists said Thursday at the Business Insurance 2014 Risk Management Summit in New York.

“There are a whole bunch of potential issues that using social media causes, or at least come to the fore,” said attorney Scott Vernick, a Philadelphia-based partner at Fox Rothschild L.L.P.

Improper use of social media by a company or its individual employees can have a variety of legal implications, including violations of intellectual property, privacy and employment practices laws, as well as disclosure or misappropriation of trade secrets or other sensitive corporate information.

Additionally, panelists said, social media can be a vehicle for significant damage to a company's brand or reputation if it is misused or — as is often the case — ignored entirely.

“Too many people are skeptical about social media and generally don't want to take the time to understand it,” said Shannon Wilkinson, founder and president of New York-based Reputation Communications Ltd. “You can look to what kinds of social media crises your industry peers have experienced and develop scenarios that will help you anticipate problems and put a plan in place to respond should they occur.”


While the specific content of companies' social media usage policies will likely need to be tailored according to their industry, employee demographics and available resources, they should at a minimum make clear the proper protocols for both internal communications between staff members and external interactions with consumers or clients, panelists said.

Also, panelists said, responsibility for mitigation of potential crisis events stemming from social media use should not fall solely on the risk management department, but rather should include ongoing input from companies' legal, public relations, finance, marketing and information technology departments.

“Start with the problem or the event itself and work backward,” said Shawn Ram, national technology practice leader at Aon Risk Solutions in San Jose, Calif. “If you can envision a social media crisis event occurring and what you would do about it, that helps you identify and understand who should be involved.”

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