By Robert Mackenzie, partner, Business Technology and Consulting, Scott-Moncrieff

The rise and rise of social media brings with it both risk and reward in a workplace context.

“If we do not use social media, then there is no risk to us!”

This comment — or something very similar — is one that I have heard a number of times when speaking with business leaders about their view on whether or not to engage in the use of social media. There may be some organisations where this holds true, where the status quo of non-use remains the best option to take, but there are many more where it is not an option that should be pursued.

Why not? Well, the fact is that the non-use of social media can have a detrimental impact on an organisation, and these can be categorised into four main types.


If the organisation is viewed as one which is innovative, it may change the perception people have if it opts not to use social media. This can have a negative impact on staff, customers and suppliers. Indeed, without using social media, it will increasingly be the case that some organisations will not be able to fully engage with all their stakeholders and will also miss opportunities to raise brand awareness.

b)Financial and legal:

Organisations must avoid investing in expensive technology that may be, in effect, simply replicating what social media does. In essence, use of social media is free.

Furthermore, by not using social media, the organisation may spend a significant amount, in terms of time and actual cost, by opting for face-to-face interaction. Use of social media reduces such costs.


Here there are two main threats, the first being the failure to drive innovation and creativity within the organisation itself and also within its related communities. Others may fill that void.

Secondly — and one that is potentially very damaging — is that non-use of social media will lead to an inability to improve efficiency of learning and teaching and of research work.


Organisations not using social media will be unable to access current relevant information or they will have to pay for this from other sources. In parallel, they will fine themselves continuing to use costly traditional methods to conduct learning and teaching and research work.
There is the missed opportunity of using a channel of that permits “one to many” communication

And finally, the potentially very damaging issue may arise of staff feeling there is a failure to trust them to behave responsibly.

So, what are the risks of using social media?

If the business/organisation leaders decide to engage in the use of social media, there are two levels at which they can proceed. The first is to allow selected members of staff only to have access, while the alternative is to allow all members of staff access. In each instance there are risks that can be recognised.

For consistency, these are split into the same categories as used earlier.

Allowing access to specific sites for specific staff:


Some stakeholders may resent the use of social media as the means by which you communicate with them as they see it as depersonalising i.e. you have chosen to communicate with them as one of a group rather than on an individual basis. This ‘blanket’ approach can reduce the level of individual engagement that recipients feel.

b)Financial and legal:

Training staff to utilise social media correctly and in an appropriate manner can be costly, while a risk that is often uppermost in business leaders’ minds is the risk of information being posted without being properly checked. The ease of information posting and dissemination is a benefit, but it increases the likelihood that some content may be posted (accidentally or deliberately) without being subject to internal quality control process.


Determining who gets/does not get access? This is one where the correct decisions are vital.


Once the decision is made on who does/does not get access - and that is difficult - there is a risk that the organisation is regarded as operating a two-tier staffing structure. This can then lead to a loss of talent due to lack of trust.

From a technical point of view, because of interaction between social media site users there can be an increased propensity to spread malware and aid phishing attacks and spam. In turn this threatens the company’s data in terms of confidentiality, integrity and availability.

Allow access for all staff


The same risk as for limited access apply, plus the following:

The inability to control staff and, therefore, content and quality of external communications, leading to serous brand/reputational damage.

The inability to control personal use.

Being drawn into public debates (via staff postings etc)

The release of sensitive or embargoed information.

Failure to engage target audience

b)Financial and legal:

The same risk as for limited access apply, plus the following:

Possible litigation costs if defamatory comments are made

Reduction in productivity through excessive personal use

Cost of training

Access to inappropriate content e.g. blogs, YouTube videos


The principal risk here is trivialising the core messages of the organisation


Unable to control staff access and ensure that it is for professional purposes

Productivity losses

Differentiating between discussion and chatter

Accuracy and verification of information and posters

Staff need to be aware of the fact that their Facebook “friends” may also be stakeholders

Impact on bandwidth availability

Increased risk of viruses and malware entering the organisation network

Failure to manage expectations on speed of interaction

It can be seen that there are a range of risks in using - or not using - social media. On balance, the greater long term risk is not using it — competitors will and your organisation will be left behind. Business leaders must come to terms with the fact that the key feature of most risks is that they are dependent on user behaviour; when considering the risks of social media use, the user really is the main threat. However, they are also the means by which the main opportunities will be delivered.

For further information contact: robert.mackenzie@scott-moncrieff.com or 0131 473 3500