Jeff DeCagna of Principled Innovation, LLC spoke at the ASAE Social Media Workshop on November 6. His talk, Connecting Social Tools to Organizational Strategy and Capability focused on how important strategy is in your social technologies efforts. His second question in Jeff’s Top Ten Social Strategy Questions for Association Leaders got my attention with the word “risk.” How much business risk are we willing to accept? Risk assessment is an important part of any strategic discussion not just social technologies.
Jeff defined three types of risk – manufactured, manageable and momentum. Manufactured risk caught my attention because the perceived severity of a manufactured risk often causes an organization to not pursue a specific strategy because it’s too risky. A manufactured risk in one that everyone talks about, worries about and keeps them from acting. The risk is usually taken to the extreme, worst case scenario threatening the organization’s survival. To me people repeat the concerns so often the risk takes on the persona of an urban legend . Urban legends are neither false nor true but usually have a grain of truth as does a manufactured risk. But people don’t analyze the exposure to decide if the potential outcome is truly that awful or devastating. People just use the manufactured risk as a reason not to do something.
They’ll say bad things about us . . .
The most common reason (manufactured risk) an organization resists social media is that “someone may something bad about us, our members, clients, sponsor, etc.” The grain of truth is that yes people will say something bad about your organization or members – it is inevitable – not everyone will like what you‘re doing. The exaggeration is that the comments will cause irreparable damage possibly leading to its demise. Damage to your reputation is a risk that you can and should be managed, but the final outcome is rarely the end of your organization. When an organization does fail it is due to inherent structural or cultural faults that existed before the bad press.
Wendy Harman , Social Media Manager of the American Red Cross (ARC) , spoke at the workshop and helped debunk this manufactured risk. Wendy joined the Red Cross in late 2006 when Hurricane Katrina was still a trending topic. Her task was to stop people from saying bad things about ARC on the internet. However when Wendy began listening in the 400+ mentions of ARC each day the majority were very positive. According to Wendy in an interview with John Haydon, “People are more generous and more willing to engage than we gave them credit for being. Now, we’ve been able to figure out how to start building an online movement of people empowered by us and themselves to make a difference.”
What to do . . .
To prove this to yourselves and your bosses do both a Google and Twitter search for your organization’s name, acronym and industry topics to see what people are saying about you. I think you’ll find most comments are positive or a worse case no one is talking about you. It’s better to know what they are saying so you can respond appropriately. A quick review of public relations and marketing failures such as United Breaks Guitars, Amazon.com’s snafu with listing its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender books in the “adult” category and the “Dell Sucks” campaign were the result of the companies not responding to criticism by its customers. Greater damage is done by not responding or replying in a defensive or patronizing way. A quick and honest response goes a long way plus your members will come to your aid. Don’t let the manufactured risk of “bad public relations” keep your organization from engaging online with its members and other stakeholders. There are bigger risks to manage than this one.