Social media: a double-edged sword
The role of social media in business continuity can't be ignored, says ContinuitySA. Not only can it support business continuity; it can also pose a continuity threat.
"Social media can have a major impact on business continuity management. But even companies that don't have a formal social media strategy need to take it into consideration in their risk management and business continuity planning," says David Bollaert, senior BCM consultant at ContinuitySA, Africa's largest end-to-end BCM provider.
Bollaert notes that thanks to its ubiquity, social media can play a key role in various elements of a business continuity plan - preparation, emergency response, incident management and recovery.
"Social media presents a range of new opportunities for business continuity management. It allows for immediate communications with staff and key stakeholders, allowing for rapid co-ordination and information sharing," he says.
With over 7 million active Facebook users, over 2.1 million LinkedIn users and over 1 million Twitter users in SA alone, social media gives businesses effective access to staff, customers, shareholders and media in the event of an incident, he notes.
However, while social media can be an effective business recovery tool, it can also be the factor that causes the crisis, says Bollaert. "Because social media is so prevalent and rapidly connects people globally, it has penetrated the market faster than anyone expected and can spread a message that causes reputational damage, very quickly."
Just as companies try to capitalise on social media, they also need to be managing social media as part of their business continuity planning. Even those companies not using social media for marketing and communications need to understand that social media is entrenched in life today, and they need to be actively monitoring it. "They need to be prepared and have a strategy around social media risk and response," Bollaert says.
He adds that companies need to have media monitoring software in place that enables them to understand what is being said, and triggers alerts when necessary. "A rapid response is ideal - preferably within an hour or two of identifying a problem. Research has shown that companies that respond well to crises have a more positive stakeholder image and a resulting higher potential share price over time than those that do not manage crises well. So, how quickly and effectively a company responds to a reputational crisis spreading on social media depends on its risk appetite, its strategy and plans in place."
However, he cautions against treating every negative sentiment on social media as a crisis. "It is important to know when it's a crisis and when it's not, and not to blow a small issue out of proportion."
Bollaert says this is where planning is crucial. "Companies need to have a proper strategy in place before problems arise. They need to have an approved social media crisis management strategy that includes who will respond, how they will respond, do they want to create a global message or respond directly (and at what threshold)? Companies may want to have a holding statement pre-vetted and prepared, for possible crises. As with all business continuity planning, companies need to be prepared for any eventuality in social media."
Bollaert will address the upcoming ITWeb Business Continuity event on the role of social media in business continuity. He will outline the characteristics of social media, how it can protect or damage a brand, and steps to consider when managing a social media crisis.