This year is shaping up to be a significant year for social media adoption in business. Although many businesses have already incorporated social media channels into their outbound marketing strategies, it is important to recognize that social interaction and communication extend far beyond the walls of the marketing department. Social media creates an environment — often in public — for customers, employees, business partners, and even competitors to interact and engage in a dynamic fashion. This type of environment can create both interesting opportunities and significant social media challenges for business.

The social media dilemma: To restrict or regret?

One of the most important social media challenges for business is the issue of compliance. Businesses in regulated industries such as financial services, insurance, pharma, and healthcare must ensure they remain compliant with longstanding regulations related to electronic communications. Even businesses who are not in regulated industries must worry about the legal exposures created by social media, and the potential cost of litigation and electronic discovery once the need arises. Unfortunately, this creates a difficult dilemma: allow social media use and face a potential legal or PR disaster, or shutdown social media usage and attempt to operate without it. Businesses who choose the latter must seriously consider whether banning social media is truly a feasible strategy for the long term. If not, how long before a better solution needs to be put in place?

A 2011 study conducted by Robert Half Technology shows that 54% of companies do not allow employees to visit social networking sites at work. Despite this fact, employees continue to embrace social media at an incredible rate. Even in highly regulated industries such as financial services, surveys indicate that nearly 85% of financial services professionals are using social media. Outside of the private sector, social media usage is skyrocketing within government agencies and educational institutions:  92% of federal employees and 100% of colleges and universities now have a presence on social networking sites.

Overcoming social media challenges for business

As we kick off 2012, it is clear that social media usage among professionals has reached a significant threshold. Businesses must quickly figure out ways to safely and effectively embrace social media usage within the organization, rather than completely lose control. Here are some important considerations for businesses in the year ahead:

Defining a clear social networking policy

It is extremely important for businesses to provide employees with detailed guidance and expectations regarding social media usage. Employee training can turn social media challenges for business into social media opportunities. After all, social media is about personal interactions and you must ultimately train and trust people to do the right thing.

Understanding the impact of social media on compliance

In many industries, businesses must comply with strict regulations and laws related to electronic communications. Businesses in these industries should understand how social media communication fits into the existing compliance rules, as well as keep up with emerging guidance that specifically targets social media. FINRA was perhaps the first major regulatory body to issue specific social media guidance and the underlying message was clear: social media activity, like other forms of electronic communication, is not exempt from the rules. Of course, the challenge for regulated businesses is that social media activity is far more difficult to capture and preserve than traditional communication such as email.

Preparing for legal risks associated with social media usage

A common drawback of social media is that it exposes businesses to new types of legal risk. No matter how well written the social media policy, misunderstandings and mistakes are bound to occur. A business must consider how to both mitigate risk at the time of an occurrence as well as in the long term. Social media content is now one of the most often requested types of data during the eDiscovery process of litigation. The fact that social media data resides on a third-party service, and is generally administered through an employee-owned accounts, means that electronic discovery will likely become one of the most difficult social media challenges for business.

Technology to the rescue

Technology obviously has an important role in helping businesses comfortably embrace social media. At ArchiveSocial, we believe that an effective record retention strategy will enable businesses to overcome many of the compliance and legal challenges we’ve discussed. By capturing and archiving social media records, businesses can keep track of employee activity, satisfy compliance requirements, and remain well-prepared for legal situations. We are working on a simple, cost-effective, and fully automated solution to help social media adoption become a reality for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Interested? Learn more about our social media archiving solution.