We've seen a lot of discussion about Fortune 500 companies using social media as a tool to mitigate risk, with some industries revolutionizing risk management through the application of digital media. But how prepared are organizations for dealing with the spread of a digital crisis gone viral?

We recently completed our Corporate Communication Index 2010 Study, speaking with communications leaders from a select group of the Fortune 500 on the use of social media in their organizations, among other issues. One telling finding was that the majority of organizations are still in the process of formalizing their social media plans, including plans for how they should deal with a viral crisis should it occur tomorrow. With many companies focused on mitigating risk through direct engagement with customers and stakeholders, more companies need to be planning for how they will deal with the dissemination of and syndication of a crisis that hits their business online.

For example, the airline industry understands its digital niche, knowing that the majority of dialogue surrounding their business in the digital realm occurs on Twitter. Delta Air Lines has revolutionized its approach to handling customer service complaints. They established a "control room" where employees can track every word spoken about the company online on big-screen monitors streaming social media platforms in real time. Through a combination of technology and savvy employees well versed in social media strategy, Delta exemplifies the strategic aspects of mitigating risk. However, many businesses are not in a position where there is a clear emphasis on one dominant form of social media communicating messages about their brand online.

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Have any of you ever heard of Formspring.me?  Neither had I, until recently.  Mashable.com, the popular social media blog, recently reported that Formspring raised $10MM dollars in its second round of funding.  I mention that to demonstrate that this stuff is cutting edge.  But what is it, and why does it matter to the enterprise?


Social Inquiry Defined

At its core, Formspring is essentially a Q&A platform.  You find a friend (or stranger) ask them a question, using your name or not, and they answer it.  Some of the content is highly personal, some of it is completely superficial, but in essence it is an always-on, always-open Q&A session.  It's the Twitter version of the traditional Q&A, and aside from being unbelievably addicting, I think it represents a next big thing in enterprise social media, both internally and externally.  (For this post I'll focus on internal, but the opportunities are nearly as limitless outside as they are inside.)

Simplicity Drives Usage

Imagine if, with a simple search and a one sentence question, you could access the insights and thinking of practically every employee within your organization.  Imagine if you could, in a matter of moments on your Smartphone, answer a question on the company's updated approach to manufacturing safety or its new benefits package.  For that matter, imagine you could ask the manager of supply chain in Asia how they managed to get employee buy-in to the radical changes they've already adopted and you've been banging your head against the wall to make any headway on at all.  And you could do it without spending three weeks trying to schedule a meeting.  You could do it in minutes.

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Bob Feldman, partner at PulsePoint Group, provides commentary on the firm's recently released Corporate Communication Index Study. This is the first in a series of videos where he will provide insight into the findings.

The PulsePoint Group Communication Index 2010: Social media providing huge opportunities, but drive to innovate remains elusive.

Despite the opportunities being presented by the explosion of social media, more than two-thirds of surveyed chief communications officers say they're not doing enough to drive innovation within their own organizations.

The report found that as CEOs emphasize innovation as an essential way to survive and grow in a difficult economy, the burgeoning use of social media provides extensive opportunities for communication departments to engage with customers, potential customers, and other stakeholders. But not enough corporate communications departments are driving the innovation necessary to exploit those opportunities, partly because their organizations haven't acquired the necessary digital competencies. That leaves a gap that may ultimately be filled by talented people from elsewhere in the company.

The finding is part of a forward-looking report on key trends in corporate communications departments from PulsePoint Group, a leading digital communications and management consulting firm.

The survey, Corporate Communication Index 2010, reported findings from nearly a quarter of the Fortune 100's CCOs. According to the report, "nearly 90% of those surveyed reported that innovation is a primary corporate focus for the next 3-5 years, yet two-thirds of CCOs report that their function is moderately active or less so in driving innovation in the organization."

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George Jamison, principal at Spencer Stuart, on today's communications landscape and job prospects for Chief Communications Officers.

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Version of published in PR Week, November 19, 2010

As you may have seen reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board - the independent federal agency that oversees collective bargaining issues - is claiming that a Connecticut ambulance company's social media policy was wrongly invoked to terminate an employee who complained about her supervisor in a Facebook post.

While the case is getting a fair amount of media attention because of its novelty, I want to put the matter in some perspective and also share with you some of the thinking that goes into the guidance we at PulsePoint provide to companies developing their own social media policy.

Three things make this case worth paying attention to:

  1. The NLRB's legal theory that the employer's Internet policy went too far by prohibiting disparaging remarks and by requiring the company's permission before saying anything about the company.
  2. The potential application of that theory to all workplaces, not just those with labor union issues.
  3. The extension of the employer's Internet policy to private use, at home, on the employee's own time.

According to a press release the NLRB recently issued describing the case, the employee had been the subject of a customer complaint, and was angry at her supervisor for not allowing her Teamsters representative help her craft her response. After she got home that evening, the employee aired the grievance on her Facebook page, which generated supportive responses that in turn generated still more negative comments from the employee.

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