Online Social Media

Reputational Risk, Main Risk Associated with Online Social Media

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IJCC, Volume XXXIV No. 2 July-Dec.,2015 ISSN 09704345

Sandeep Mittal, I.P.S.,*


The Indian Journal of Criminology & Criminalistics,
Volume 35 (2) July – Dec. 2015


Social media is undoubtedly a revolution in the business arena blessing the organizations with the power to connect to their consumers directly. However, as the saying goes nothing comes without a cost; there is cost involved here as well. This article examines the risks and issues related to social media at the time when the world is emerging as a single market. Social networking and online communications are no more just a fashion but an essential feature of organizations in every industry. Unfortunately, inappropriate use of this media has resulted in increasing risks to organizational reputation threatening the very survival in the long-run and necessitating the management of these reputational risks.

This article attempts to explore the various risks associated with social media. The main aim of this study is to particularly focus on reputational risks and evaluate it’s intensity from the perspectives of public relations and security staff of an organization. The article is structured to firstly explain the concept of social media followed by identification of various social media risks and the analysis of reputational risk from perspectives of public relations and organizational security staff. The article then based on the analysis provides various recommendations in order to help the contemporary organizations to overcome such risks and thus, enhance their effectiveness and efficiency to gain competitive advantage in the long-run.

Keywords: Reputational Risk, Online Social Media, OSM Security, OSM Risk, Organizational Reputation, Cyber Security, Information Assurance, Cyber Defence, Online Communication.


With changing times, the concept of socializing has been transforming. Globalization and digitalization to a large extent are responsible for the same. With internet, it is possible to stay connected with people located in various regions of the world. One such medium of socializing is the social media. In todays time, online social media services have been one of the most vibrant tools adopted not only by individuals but also corporate and government organizations (Picazo-Vela et al., 2012). Corporates in fact have been abiding social media extensively as it is one of the cheapest ways of communicating with the masses. The importance of social media can be understood from the fact that at present there are more than 100 million blogs that are highly operational and connect people from across the world (Kietzmann et al., 2010). Further there has been a surge in social media members for websites like Facebook or Twitter with over 800 million active users in Facebook in 2012 and 300 million users of Twitter (Picazo-Vela et al., 2012). In spite of being a very powerful mode of communication it is subjected to a large number of risks.

Organizations do not operate in vacuum, thus, management of reputation is crucial for them, as it affects their markets as well as the overall environment. Organizational reputation not only impacts its existing relations but also affects the future courses of action (McDonnell and King, 2013). In this article, an attempt is made to understand the various reputational risks associated with social media that affects an organization’s working and also suggests some ways to overcome them.

Concept of Social Media

The foundations of social media have been laid by the emergence of Web 2.0 (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). It is with the help of this technological development that social media is accessed at such a wide scale and is available in devices like cell phones and tablets, other than personal computers and laptops. Social media is gaining importance in the corporate world as decision makers and consultants are exploring its various aspects to exploit its potential optimally (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). Social media is an online communication system through which information is generated, commenced, distributed and utilized by a set of consumers who aim to aware themselves regarding various aspects related to a product, service, brand, problems and persona (Mangold and Faulds, 2009). It is also known as consumer-generated media. In simple terms, it can be explained as a platform to create and sustain relationships through an Internet based interactive platform.

Social media is categorized under collaborative projects, blogs, content communities, social networking sites, virtual game worlds, and virtual social worlds (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). The examples of various communication systems under social media are provided in the Table 1 for ready reference.

Organizations have realized the importance of social media and have been using it along with other integrated marketing communication tools to converse with target audience effectively and efficiently (Michaelidou et al, 2011). This is mainly because the modern day consumers are shifting from traditional promotional sources to such modernized sources. Social media has a very strong hold and is influencing consumer behavior to a large extent. Out of all the above few examples, Twitter has emerged as one of the most powerful social media tools. In the present day scenario, approximately 145 million users communicate by transferring around 90 million ‘tweets’ per day, of 140 characters or less (Kietzmann et al, 2010). Another example is of Youtube in which videos can go viral in few seconds and can attract more than 9.5 million views for a single video (Kietzmann et al, 2010).

Table 1: Example of Social Media Types

Social Media Type Example
Social networking websites MySpace, Facebook, Faceparty, Twitter
Innovative sharing websites Video Sharing (Youtube), Music Sharing (, Photo Sharing (Flickr), Content Sharing (, General intellectual property sharing (Creative Commons),
User-sponsored blogs The Unofficial AppleWeblog,
Company-sponsored websites/blogs, P&G’s Vocalpoint
Company-sponsored cause/help sites Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty,
Invitation-only social networks
Business networking sites LinkedIn
Collaborative websites Wikipedia
Virtual worlds Second Life
Commerce communities eBay,, Craig’s List, iStockphoto,
Podcasts For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report
News delivery sites Current TV
Educational materials sharing MIT OpenCourseWare, MERLOT
Open Source Software communities Mozilla’s,
Social bookmarking sites which permit browsers to suggest online news stories, music, videos Digg,, Newsvine, Mixx it, Reddit

Source: Mangold and Faulds, 2009.


Risks Associated with Social Media

Before discussing the various risks associated with social media, it is essential to understand the various risks faced by an organization while using the internet. This can be depicted with the help of a diagram provided as Figure 1.

Figure 1: Internet Related Risks for Organizations
Source: Lichtenstein and Swatman, 1997

In Figure 1, other internet participants imply other members from the internet society. These risks are very general and are experienced by organizations even in cases where they are not connected to the internet like the risks associated with corrupted software (Lichtenstein and Swatman, 1997).

The horizon of risks have expanded to a larger extent by things becoming more critical and complicated with extensive popularity and usage of social media (Armstrong, 2012). Organizations are challenged with new and unique risks which need to be catered proactively. These risks threaten the effectiveness of this mode and thus organizations fail to reap its benefits completely. It is due to such risks that many organizations have either limited their approach towards usage of social media or do not resort to such measures. Such risks range from data outflow and legal complications to risks associated with reputation (Everett, 2010).

These risks can be categorized under two heads namely; those related to user and security related issues (Chi, 2011). User related risks are inadequate certification controls, phishing, information seepage, and information truthfulness (Chi, 2011). The security related risks are Cross Site Scripting (XSS), Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF), injection defects, deficient anti-automation (Chi, 2011).

Out of all the risks related to social media, an organization is mainly threatened with risks related to information confidentiality, organizational reputation and legal conformities (Thompson, 2013). Issues related to information confidentiality emerge mainly because information is shared digitally using social media. Thus, there are chances of such information getting hacked or shared unintentionally. This may raise risks related to privacy thus affecting information integrity.

Legal issues while using social media are bound to take place mainly because this media is used for global approach and is therefore affected by international rules and regulations. It is challenging for an organization to understand varied legal obligations of differing countries and then determine a universally accepted legal protocol. Risks related to organizational reputation are discussed in detail in the next section.

Reputational Risk

Reputation of an individual or organization is related to one’s reliability and uprightness. Thus, managing and securing the reputation becomes highly critical. With organizations resorting to social media extensively, they are bound to experience such reputational risks thus affecting their goodwill negatively. Reputational risks arise from the fact that organizations share all-embracing information with customers and browsers (Woodruff, 2014). This information in many circumstances is misused which damages organizational reputation. The various depressing effects from reputational damage are negative impact on goodwill in the real world, restricting development of social contacts and contracts, detrimental impact on attracting potential customers (Woodruff, 2014). In one of the research studies, 74 per cent employees accept the ease of causing reputational damage to organizations through social media (Davison et al., 2011). It is due to this reason that organizations to a large extent scrutinize the use of social networking sites by their employees.

Public Relations

Public relations depict organization’s relations with its various stakeholders. Organizations use the social media platform to interact with their stakeholders and thus develop a strong and positive public image. In fact the social media, organizations and stakeholders together interact within the dynamic business world (Aula, 2010). These interactions are shaped by organizational public relations objectives and the extent of social media usage for developing organizational reputation. But developing and sustaining a positive public relation is not easy as they are hampered to a large extent when subjected to reputational risks. Organization’s personal identity is at stake as it can be plagiarized and used without authentication (Weir et al, 2011).

Reputational risks are related to organizational credibility and results from security risks like identity theft and profiling risks. These risks challenge organizational reputation by questioning its compliance with societal rules and regulations (McDonnell and King, 2013). Organizations to a large extent fail to integrate social media with organizational and stakeholders objectives resulting into ineffective reputation management.

Social media has made organizations global, due to which even minor incidents get highlighted internationally. Local issues get international fame resulting in a negative reputation for the organization globally. Further with social media being active, organizations cannot escape from the clutches of negative publicity (Kotler, 2011). One example of failure of reputation management that resulted in earning negative fame across the world is Nestle. In 2010, Greenpeace uploaded a video on YouTube against KitKat by Nestle (Berthon et al, 2012). The video went viral and resulted in negative publicity for the organization. Though the advertisement was made mainly for consumers in Malaysia and Indonesia for conserving rainforests but it was acknowledged by the world at large.

Another risk that is faced by the organizations is the creation of a public image through standardized marketing programs. Differing stakeholders from different countries use different social media platforms which make it essential for organizations to clearly analyze and understand their usage requirements and patterns. This is where most of the organizations fail and thus are unable to use social media appropriately.

Below is a graph that depicts usage of differing social media platforms in different countries as per statistics in 2011 (Berthon et al, 2012).

Figure 2: Relative Frequency of Search Terms from Google Insights: Social Media by Country

Source: Berthon et al, 2012

Organizational Security Staff

Organizational employees are indispensable for the success. But these employees can also be a threat to the organization. It is mainly possible as employees have access to organization’s confidential and important information which they can leak to outsiders. With social media’s growing popularity, the line between personal and professional conversations on web has become blurred. Further inspite of keeping this information under security they can evade such systems through illegal measures. Further research has proved that only in USA approximately 83per cent staffs use organizational resources to contact their social media (Zyl, 2009). Other than using these resources for personal messages exchange over social media, 30 per cent employees in USA and 42 per cent employees in UK also exchanged information related to their work and organization (Zyl, 2009). This depicts the intensity of problem of security risks related to social media. Thus, the organizational security staff has to be on its toes to ensure that such information is highly secured and not utilized inappropriately.

In 2002, an employee of an international financial services organization in the USA infiltrated the organizational digital security systems and used ‘Logic Bomb’ virus to delete approximately 10 billion files from 1300 organization’s servers. This resulted in a financial loss of around $3 million and it also had to suffer due to negative publicity. This depicts failure of organizational society staff to combat risks. Such issues have become very common in the social networking world. Employees have the freedom to generate nasty and unsecured comments or links that harms organizational reputation, finances and creates security related risks (Randazzo, 2005).

With the help of social media, social engineering attacks are possible due to easy admission to hefty information by hackers, spammers and virus creators. They can easily misuse the same by creating fake profiles, stealing identity and collect details with regards to job titles, phone numbers, e-mail addresses. Further they can also corrupt systems using malwares that ultimately are a threat to organizational data. Data infiltration and loss ultimately impact organizational reputation negatively as these leaked data are used for unauthentic and illegal activities.


Organizations who are either unaware of these risks or are unable to defend themselves can face dire consequences at times. Organizations are aware of the gains that they would derive from using social media networking and thus take such risks readily. These risks cannot be avoided completely,organizations need to work out measures through which they can manage these risks and mitigate their negative influences.

In order to overcome issues related to privacy that ultimately results in hampering one’s reputation, the organizations should take proactive measures before using social media. During the sign-up phase or creation of social networking profiles, specific concerns related to privacy and confidentiality should be resolved and proper regulations designed (Fogel and Nehmad, 2009). These rules and regulations should be very clearly communicated to organizational employees so that they have complete information regarding social media dos and don’ts. Further the organization should not only design strict punishments but also execute them against those who break such rules (Hutchings, 2012).

One of the ways to overcome reputational risks related to social media is by appointing an efficient social media manager. These managers are specialists and would be responsible for determining the social media related protocol based on organizational top secret information, contemporary issues and prospective plans (Bottles and Sherlock, 2011). The social media manager should have a responsibility towards the organization and various stakeholders and thus intermingle with them sincerely and empathetically (Brammer and Pavelin, 2006). The manager should also have a vigilant eye and an analytical attitude to identify various fact, figures and events that can impact organizational reputation and thus take corrective actions. As security staff play crucial role in determining organizational security standards, the organizations should be very specific in recruiting and selecting them. Besides, there should be a greater emphasis in the organization development of culture, values, and ethics within an organization.

Organizations should also understand that management of reputational risks requires collaborative and innovative approach. The organization needs to develop a social media involvement protocol by consulting and taking advice from differing sources like legal experts, marketing experts, international business experts, media experts and other stakeholders (Montalvo, 2011). The organization should also be innovative in selecting and distributing the content through social media so that it can responsibly deal with issues.


Organizations today prefer to use social media in comparison to traditional media (Hutchings, 2012). It is mainly due to the various benefits associated with the same but they cannot also overlook various associated risks. It takes ages for an organization to develop a positive reputation and thus careful measures needs to be taken to maintain and sustain it. Organizations are unable to exercise control on social media completely but they can take restrictive measures to ensure that reputational risks are minimized and their ill effects are combated.

The article identified that the major reputational risks related to social media for organizations arise due to data outflow, identity theft, profiling risks, inappropriate choice of public relation strategy, inability to control external environmental factors, inappropriate information management and security policy and failure to have efficient and effective security staff. In order to overcome such issues, organizations need to appoint social media managers and hire employees skilled in social media management. Further, it should be a collaborative and creative approach and design social media protocol to mitigate such risks.

To conclude, it can be stated that the organizations need to be proactive and have a vigilant eye on environmental factors to secure themselves and benefit from online social media.

Note: The views expressed in this paper are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization where he worked in the past or is working presently, the author convey his thanks to Chevening TCS Cyber Policy Scholarship of UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who sponsored part of this study.


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