One thing that came out of the recent barcamp for UK government types is that as much as those who really dig this stuff do their best to champion its use wherever possible, it really comes down to how senior managers feel about it.

The issue, of course, is one of risk. Doing anything different is inherently risky, and when that something different is directly engaging with people through an online conversational medium, then it’s even riskier. I don’t think we social media enthusiasts should ignore the fact (and it is, I think, a fact) that there are some really quite persuasive arguments as to why government, or indeed any organisation, shouldn’t go near this stuff.

Shel Holtz has come up with five common reasons why organisations won’t risk social media:

#1 - IT won’t let us

IT doesn’t want to spend the time or money to test social media software on company networks, claiming it can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take up to a year to make sure applications don’t conflict with existing programs. They also resist external hosting, asserting that it puts company data at too much risk. (Makes you wonder how much they care about our 401(k) data, since that’s never housed on internal servers.)

#2 - It will be abused

Employees will say inappropriate things. Customers will complain. Bad language will appear on comments. People will insult management. We’ll end up spending time on issues we don’t really think are important. Care to add to the list?

#3 - Management fears loss of control

The company has invested considerable time, effort, and money to craft a brand image that will be completely destroyed if we open it up to the masses. Besides, transparency is a bad thing and we don’t need our internal workings on display.

#4 - Legal and regulatory risks

Nobody likes a lawsuit. Besides, the Securities and Exchange Commission will the company if an employee inadvertently makes a forward-looking material statement. Pharmaceutical companies fear the FDA’s punitive powers for promotion of unapproved indications while the financial services industry fears fines from the bodies that regulate their activities.

#5 - We don’t have the time or resources

Communicators are already overworked. Where are they supposed to find the time to do all this new stuff? How can they even stay on top of the ever-shifting social media landscape?

These are all valid points, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t convincing counter-arguments, or mitigating actions that can be made to minimise them. In a future post I will cover what we can do to convince people that these are issues that can be overcome.

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