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Social media and business continuity

By Mike Jacobs.

In the reporting that followed the UK riots in summer 2011, a survey by Unisys of 973 adults reported that 70 percent supported (‘completely agree’ or ‘agree somewhat’) the shutdown of Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger during times of civil unrest and that 46 percent agreed that the British government should have open access to data on social network users.

When you start to look below these questions, and investigate the demographics of the respondents, it turns out those respondents aged 65 and older were most supportive of shutting down social networking sites, while those between 18 and 24 were least supportive.

Is this any great surprise? And what does it mean to us as business continuity professionals?

Social media is the future, whether you like it or not. It is undoubtedly an important tool for communication, education and motivation, with the potential to be a force for good (1) as well as bad. Before we can pass judgement on it, we perhaps need to better understand a few things that define the social media landscape.

1. It isn’t going away. Whatever you or I think of it, it is here to stay. TechCrunch reported in June 2011 that there were 200 million tweets per day, and Facebook report (as of November 2011) that they have 800 million active users.

2. Most use of social media is harmless – even mundane. However, any malicious use is instantaneous and pervasive, can be notionally anonymous and has the potential to reach a large audience.

3. Not all social media is the same. There may be common elements, but in terms of structure and usage LinkedIn is different from Facebook which is different from Twitter. There is work / social and active / passive communication, although the lines between them sometimes blur. One thing that they have in common is that the information on them is in the public domain. Blackberry Messenger (BBM) is another beast altogether – connection is between identified handsets (each has their own PIN) via either the mobile network or the Internet. Initially thought to be highly secure, RIM announced following the UK riots that they would be co-operating with the Police under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.Organizations with their own BES have a slightly different situation.

4. Politicians are quick to jump on bandwagons as they come along (David Cameron is on LinkedIn, and every politician seems to be on Twitter), but equally quick to blame these tools of the ‘yoof’ for spreading mayhem.

5. Control of private communications – however well intentioned – will ultimately be seen as a ‘Big Brother’ act. In the summer of 2011, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, Lebanon, Kuwait and Algeria all threatened to block BBM unless they were given access to the encrypted traffic and the means to read it. In 2009, UAE telecoms firm Etisalat went as far as issuing an update to their Blackberry users which could have allowed third party ‘access to private information and emails’ ).

6. There is a cultural and generational gap in the use of social media – both in terms of type and volume. This generational gap is nothing new, and given the pace of technological change it is perhaps inevitable. It has led to the coining of the phrases ‘digital native’ (2) (“They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age”)and ‘digital immigrant’ (“Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their ‘accent,’ that is, their foot in the past”) which become important when we look at setting strategy for social media use.

7. Not using social media doesn’t exempt you from being mentioned in it. All it does it takes away your ability to respond in the same media.

But what use is this knowledge? Firstly, if you aren’t already using or looking at social media, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Whether or not you are involved, the chances are that your consumers or target audience are, and a number of your staff probably are too. This doesn’t mean you have to rush out and set up your own Facebook page, and be feverishly checking how many ‘likes’ you’ve got today. What it does mean is that you have to assess the options and make an informed choice.

Setting a strategy

Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing – choosing not to engage in social media can be a valid strategy if it is made as an informed decision. You may be the sort of organization that is media shy, or feels that there is little public interest in what it does. If you want to use social media as part of a business continuity communications strategy, it has to part of a wider organizational communications strategy. Don’t expect to be able to turn the corporate use of social media on from a standing start and be able to hit your entire target audience overnight. You have to entice people to you; give them a reason to interact with you.

There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the medium that is seen to give all individuals equal power to communicate, and is being used by the #occupy movement to rebel against Western capitalism and consumerism, has spawned a whole pseudo-industry. There are monitoring tools, seminars, books and ‘experts’. Ultimately though, it does give power to the individual; during the super injunction debacle, the number of people naming Ryan Giggs in breach of the injunction was quoted in Parliament as “about 75,000” (May 2011). However, it doesn’t put them above the law - in the same month Twitter was subpoenaed through the courts in California to provide the details behind an account that had libelled councillors at South Tyneside Council.

As an organization you have to define what resources you are going to invest in which elements of social media; and the authority you are going to give to the people controlling it. The Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside, Gordon Scobbie, said recently “I trust my staff with a baton. I trust them to remove your liberty. Why wouldn’t I trust them with a Twitter account? (3)” Is this the point? Do we just need to apply a little common sense? Should staff just be told to apply the “Grandmother Test” (in essence, would you want your Grandmother to read what you’ve posted) to anything they want to put on social media?

As important, if not arguably more important, as what you say is how you know what is being said about you. Which channels are you going to monitor, how and who is going to have responsibility for it? Are you going to monitor for your name, for your geographic area or for your industry? Do you need to know what is being said about your supply chain? Most importantly, what are you going to do with that information? It is absolutely critical that any social media strategy understands that social media is a conglomeration of individual opinion and vested opinion. All you will see is what someone has said, not their motivation for saying it. There needs to be a dynamic system for reacting to comment, choosing when to reply and when to stay silent, whether to be confrontational or conciliatory. This is where the concepts of digital native and digital immigrant become so important (recognising that there are flaws) (4).

Most businesses still operate a traditional hierarchical model. Power is inextricably linked with seniority, which has a close correlation with age. Unfortunately, this will also mean that the individuals with the responsibility for looking at or managing an organization’s social media strategy are likely to be more digital immigrant than digital native. This can put them out of touch with their target audience, or put such lengthy delays into the process that response comes too late and is out of context.

Perhaps the main element to understand is that the simplicity of social media does not mean that an organization’s strategy should be simplistic. There should be a clear understanding of what you are using and why you are using it – are you going to be friend, giving advice and freebies or are you going to be an authoritative voice, myth busting and providing immutable facts? Are you going to be flexible, trusting junior digital native staff to make decisions and timely responses, or are you going be traditional and let senior digital immigrant staff be presented with information and then make a decision for someone to implement.

There is no magic solution. Organizations of different sizes in different industries with different resources require different strategies. But it is here to stay. It is the future. And ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Author: Mike Jacobs is a Director at Biscon Planning a specialist business continuity consultancy. Mike has a particular interest in social media as a crisis communication tool. He can be contacted at mikejacobs@biscon.co.uk or at 0845 076 5637.

References
1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-16089985
2 http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf
3 http://www.comms2point0.co.uk/comms2point0/2011/12/7/trust-me-im-a-follower.html
4 http://www.agent4change.net/resources/research/1088

•Date: 9th December 2011 • Region: UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC general

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