Q&A: Effective social media governance and risk management


Financier Worldwide Magazine

August 2016 Issue

August 2016 Issue

FW moderates a discussion on effective social media governance and risk management between Jon Lovell at Ashurst, Scott W. Pink at DLA Piper LLP, and Carla Arrieta at Roche Diabetes Care Spain.

FW: Could you provide an overview of the increasing prominence of social media as a tool to connect with customers, shareholders, the media and other stakeholders? To what extent has technology revolutionised corporate communications?

Lovell: A social media presence is now an automatic expectation of clients, if not all stakeholders in the market. For some demographics, especially younger professionals, and industries such as consumer goods, social media is now the first port of call for new visitors to a brand, over and above a website. In the professional services industry, websites still prevail, at least for now. Nevertheless, most industries can use social media both for advertising products and services as well as using it as a recruitment tool. Social media has revolutionised corporate communications by expediting the process of distributing content. It has allowed self-publishers to flourish and has decreased the reliance on traditional media to pick up media releases; organisations can simply distribute content themselves to defined target audiences through social media channels. Social media has also provided organisations with a source of daily interaction with their clients, as well as empowering employees to build their own personal brand independent of, but related to, the corporate brand.

Pink: Social media has become an increasingly important tool for companies to position their brands and tell their story. It has enabled brands to extend their social reach and to communicate with their various constituents through podcasts, video, text and photos in a manner previously not available. For example, a brand can instantly communicate to millions of consumers a new product offering.

Arrieta: Conversations taking place on social media provide companies with the opportunity to listen to all players and stakeholder interests, worries and wishes. Social media, when used properly, can be an effective business tool. In this sense, here at Roche we are levering social media to build relationships and better connect with consumers and key influencers. Patients are using the social space as a natural habitat for health discussions; they consider themselves part of a community and tend to trust others within this community on social media. Information found via social media may affect the way they cope with a chronic condition or their approach to diet and exercise. They share their opinions, ask questions and treatment options, and directly or incidentally report adverse events and expect an answer from us. Meanwhile, HCPs participate by providing educational information, taking part in online discussions, searching for colleagues’ opinions and providing meaningful insights on current health challenges. On the other hand, social media’s high-speed, level of interactivity and global access to any information has reputational risks as well as great expectations from all stakeholders, including internal and external audiences that we must be prepared to respond to. Transparency, fast feedback and multidirectional responses are the basis for the creation of a good communications strategy.

Transparency, fast feedback and multidirectional responses are the basis for the creation of a good communications strategy.
— Carla Arrieta

FW: In your opinion, what some of the overarching challenges and issues associated with social media? Why are governance and risk management so important during corporate communications?

Pink: The primary challenge is controlling the message. Social media moves rapidly and you need systems and procedures in place to respond to social media in real time and avoid legal exposure from improper communications. A governance and risk management strategy is key to being able to be nimble and responsive, but also to manage the legal and business risks.

Arrieta: Ensuring compliance with standards of professionalism and patient privacy protection, as well as combating myths and misinformation about treatments and diseases, are our key concerns relating to social media as healthcare providers. Being responsible and consistent with the information shared is a must for the whole organisation. Listening, monitoring and being able to participate and engage with targeted audiences are the main goals. Besides, communications on social media, specifically about our products, are highly regulated and important internal awareness about these regulations is needed in order to avoid compliance misunderstandings. With the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a common ground, each country’s laws differ and both internal and external policies and guidelines are needed in order to be compliant as well as socially responsible.

Lovell: From a corporate communications perspective, the key overarching challenges and issues associated with social media are generating sufficient valuable content to keep clients interested and following your brand, while at the same time managing the inherent risk of brand damage. Governance and risk management are key to managing the brand damage risk – and other legal risks. This is particularly the case because employees have far easier access to social media and an ability to use – and equally misuse – the tool compared to their access to other corporate communication tools. For example, the use of ‘personal’ LinkedIn accounts to post opinion pieces and ‘like’ posts that are critical of their employer or clients. Further, social media posts can travel far further than a standard corporate communication, and cannot be retracted or deleted, hence the need for robust risk management.

FW: Specifically, what are the emerging legal and regulatory challenges that social media presents? How would you advise organisations to better understand and manage them?

Arrieta: Centralisation and clear common guidelines regarding data security are probably the most urgent needs. While a large number of EU citizens are accessing health information from social channels, there is no overall cross-border guidance on social media that applies to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. Data is the new gold and being able to protect it is the main concern for policy makers. Once again, transparency and training on regulatory and compliance regulations to help internal audiences understand what information is not suitable to be shared, is the first and most important step in order to assure the accuracy and safety of the information that is provided through official and unofficial channels. Having a global strategy and trained professionals appointed as official communicators and being responsible when participating in social dialogue, is our motto. Knowing the specific regulations of your field, following the company’s code of conduct and using common sense are usually the most useful recommendations.

Lovell: The key legal and regulatory challenges that social media presents relate to the protection of confidential information, and the prevention of defamation, harassment, bullying, discrimination and other inappropriate uses of the tool. In essence, these challenges all relate to whether an organisation can control employee use of social media, by drawing a distinction between comments made by employees in a professional capacity as opposed to a personal capacity. These issues are not new, rather the context is new. Organisations have long had to consider whether or not an employee’s conduct – for example, out of work hours conduct – is work-related and so covered by employment principles and obligations. These principles are relevant to understanding and managing these risks in a social media context, bolstered by social media policies, training and modelling appropriate use.

Pink: Regulatory agencies are paying increasing attention to social media and are increasingly issuing guidance and in some cases regulations governing its use. The key challenge is trying to satisfy regulatory disclosure and other requirements given the space and other limitations of social media. Organisations need to be more creative in how they provide information so that they ensure the disclosure and other requirements are met. This requires collaboration between marketing, corporate communications and legal teams.

Regulatory agencies are paying increasing attention to social media and are increasingly issuing guidance and in some cases regulations governing its use.
— Scott W. Pink

FW: What, in your opinion, are the most important components of an effective social media governance and risk management strategy? How should an organisation go about implementing a programme that identifies and quantifies the associated risks?

Pink: The key is involving all the major stakeholders in the process as the strategy involves corporate communications, marketing, financial and legal issues. All of these issues need to be considered and incorporated into the strategy with input from key players in each of the subject matter areas. The organisation should start with an audit of all its social media accounts and activities, and then the processes and protocols for using such accounts and activities, including both permitted and prohibited conduct. Once the strategy is developed, however, it cannot be static. Social media is constantly evolving and companies need to review their policies and processes regularly to respond to business and legal changes.

Lovell: The most important components of an effective social media governance and risk management strategy are a process to identify the risks and a process for determining and implementing an appropriate response to manage each risk. The key risks include employee exposure, brand exposure, the nature of the content you want to promote and possible backlash from stakeholders, both internal and external. An appropriate strategy to identify and quantify these risks involves developing approval processes for content distribution, training for employees, response mechanisms in the event of a problem arising and the ability to identify risks in advance and plan accordingly. Foreseeing possible issues is a key element of this process. Social media needs to be fully integrated within an organisation’s communications strategy to ensure a forward thinking approach to managing risk.

Arrieta: Arguably the most important components when stabilising social media and risk management strategy involve the monitoring and reporting of adverse events, clear policies regarding what is and what is not permitted sharing, ensuring cyber security and avoiding data leaks.

FW: To what extent can an effective social media strategy assist an organisation in establishing new revenue streams? Where in a company’s organisational structure should the responsibility for this role reside?

Lovell: It is difficult to quantify new revenue streams achieved directly from social media within the professional services industry. However, social media is definitely a tool that can attract new clients while keeping existing clients interested in your services. The platform enables an organisation to demonstrate its expertise and promote its successes as well as allowing employees to create and further personal networking opportunities. It is also an active platform – not passive such as a website – and allows an organisation to demonstrate the nature of what it sells through timely, expert and innovative use of social media. In our experience, responsibility for social media usually sits in the communications team, often as a sub-set of the business development team.

Arrieta: Social media can serve as a valuable market research tool and a complementary channel that strengthens key messaging programmes. Furthermore, social media channels may be able to help treatment engagement and trigger behavioural change toward healthy behaviours. Using social media for online education and correcting misperceptions and monitoring is a priority. To be effective in social media, as healthcare providers we need to add value to the social conversation. As for the benefits for the corporation, it supports us to get a bigger picture in order to develop solutions and programmes for targeted audiences.

Pink: For most companies, social media is primarily a marketing tool, which helps to increase brand awareness and equity, and in that way drive sales. Therefore, the marketing group would typically handle most of that activity. However, in some cases, revenue can be derived either through paid content delivered through social media sites and ecommerce capabilities that are increasingly becoming available through social media. In that case, the function might fall under the business group that primarily manages such business activity.

A key priority for any organisation is that it clearly defines what it wants out of social media, both from a brand perspective and also from a staff usage perspective.
— Jon Lovell

FW: In your opinion, how important are employee training schemes in fostering a greater understanding of the risks associated with social media use and in establishing a social media risk management culture across an organisation?

Arrieta: Before engaging with external audiences it is absolutely necessary to create internal awareness, to have clear guidelines, to appoint people as the official communicators of the company and to have a structured strategy. Being transparent with the company message, culture and responsibility toward social media and following the corporate code of conduct are also best practices we always encourage.

Pink: Training is a key component to carrying out an effective social media strategy. You need to make sure employees do not use social media for business purposes without proper authority and guidance. In addition, those employees charged with managing the company’s social media activities need proper training so that such activities are carried out in a manner consistent with the company’s business and legal objectives.

Lovell: Employee training schemes are critical to ensuring a successful social media strategy. Employees need to understand the opportunities that social media presents, the risks involved and the frameworks they must operate within to maximise these opportunities and minimise the risks. Employees should be encouraged to use social media as an effective way to build a personal brand and engage with existing and potential clients, but the onus remains on the organisation to ensure employees have the knowledge and skills to use social media platforms properly and understand the ‘lens’ to apply to social media usage. Social media training needs to match the needs of users, taking into account their level of experience with social media. In general, training for ‘digital natives’ should focus on drawing boundaries in expressing personal opinions that may reflect poorly on their employer or clients, while training for others should focus on developing digital literacy about how to use social media.

FW: What final piece of advice would you give to organisations in terms of establishing strategies that will allow them to effectively harness the power of social media safely?

Lovell: A key priority for any organisation is that it clearly defines what it wants out of social media, both from a brand perspective and also from a staff usage perspective. Identifying this purpose, achieving buy-in from key stakeholders and promoting this vision to all members of staff ensures that there is a common goal to work towards. It is also paramount that if an organisation encourages staff to be active on social media for business purposes, that the organisation recognises and fulfils its obligation to provide appropriate training so employees understand the boundaries, and have the knowledge and skills to use social media within these boundaries.

Pink: Companies should be vigilant in managing risks, but remain nimble, creative and flexible so that they can manage the risks in an effective way to further business objectives.

Arrieta: It is important to gain experience with small projects; listen and monitor. Usually common sense is the best policy. Companies should focus on content, train their communicators, prepare their strategy in advance and keep measuring every activity.

FW: How do you foresee corporate social media unfolding in the months and years ahead? What trends and developments do you expect to have a dramatic impact in this space?

Pink: I see companies continuing to expand their use of social media and an increasing use of social media to conduct e-commerce, with real-time interaction between companies and their customers during the sales transaction.

Arrieta: Despite privacy concerns, many users and specifically chronic patients and their peers are often open to sharing information via social media if it holds the potential to improve their health, as we have witnessed with patforms such us www.patientslikeme.com or diabetesmine.com. Sharing medical information is an issue that needs to be discussed but, nowadays, our main challenge as leaders in diabetes care is incorporating life data in order to better understand treatment engagement and be able to offer more personalised solutions to patients, clinicians and also healthcare systems.

Lovell: The internal use of social media within organisations has not developed to nearly the extent of external use of social media. It remains to be seen whether social media can develop as an effective replacement of, or supplement to, existing internal communication mechanisms which are often seen as duplicative in nature and clogging up email boxes. To see social media move in this direction, organisations need to set a clear internal purpose to achieve this, assign an appropriate budget and resources and assign a person to facilitate the development of internal social media. The user data available to publishers and advertisers through social media platforms will also continue to expand quickly. This presents not only great opportunities, but also great responsibility in how this data is used appropriately. The way in which content is produced and distributed is an area that will also continue to evolve. Publishers are adapting content to meet the expectations of users, who are constantly looking to expedite their consumption of news and entertainment, either through shorter-form articles, videos or simply in 140 characters. Of paramount importance is ensuring that content, regardless of the media type used, is mobile-optimised.


Jon Lovell is an Australian-based partner of global law firm, Ashurst. He advises clients on employment, workplace relations and work health and safety matters across a range of industry sectors, including government, transport, higher education and the new economy. Mr Lovell has acted in various high profile court and tribunal cases involving the use of social media by employees. He can be contacted on +61 2 6234 4157 or by email: jon.lovell@ashurst.com.

Scott W. Pink advises technology, media, entertainment and a variety of consumer product and franchise companies on intellectual property protection and litigation, advertising and promotional issues, gift cards, sweepstakes, contests and loyalty programmes, trademark and copyright protection, commercial and technology transactions, e-commerce, social media and internet law, and privacy and security issues. He also serves as the lead outside advertising and marketing counsel to several well-known brands. He can be contacted on +1 (916) 930 3271 or by email: scott.pink@dlapiper.com.

Carla Arrieta is a corporate communications specialist at Roche Diabetes Care Spain, focused on developing communication opportunities within a multichannel environment. With an important background in digital journalism, in the last five years Ms Arrieta has developed her career in the field of social science communications with the aim of diffusing scientific and pharmaceutical developments to the general public and end users for a more transparent and closer communication between corporations and society. She can be contacted on +34 93 563 31 55 or by email: carla.arrieta@roche.com.

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