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Social Media as an Enterprise Tool

February 2013

More and more organisations are realising that social media offers the huge potential to create commercial opportunities that cannot be ignored. The momentum generated by businesses targeting platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and tumblr means that the use of social media tools to benefit business will inevitably continue its march into the mainstream.

The significant technological advances in improving the interface between mobile devices and social media tools has also been crucial to this strategic shift, and has contributed to another, related phenomenon; the blurring of the boundaries between work life and personal life. This is demonstrated by the enormous increase in "bring your own device" programmes, resulting in the large-scale accessibility of business-data on personal devices, and personal data on devices provided by employers.


Businesses are gradually getting to grips with this social climate change through the implementation of more developed social media policies and the appointment of staff dedicated to managing their social media programmes, and an area which is likely to see significant growth over the next year is "enterprise social media" (ESM).

hands held up - engaging employeesESM is designed to engage employees across large organisations and encourage them to share knowledge and information more freely. While social media is now widely bringing benefits such as increased engagement with customers, personal marketing and turning employees into "brand ambassadors", ESM takes the process one step further. Through ESM systems, employees can plug into an internally-managed network to tap colleagues' experience and debate key issues, allowing companies to maximise value and innovation from their human resources.


Generally speaking, the main areas of legal risk relevant to social media use broadly apply to ESM. In particular, defamation (i.e. current employees making defamatory statements about other staff or clients), breach of confidence (i.e. confidential or commercially sensitive client information accidentally made public), and data protection present risks that employers must take appropriate steps to mitigate.

Most companies have learned from the numerous high-profile blunders made by other companies and have put basic rules in place to limit their exposure to these issues. However, this area is changing so quickly that companies will need to take a proactive and flexible approach to ensure they can adapt to inevitable further innovation.  

Enterprise on Yellow Alert

ESM does have one significant difference from many other forms of social media in that the network utilised is generally private. As a result, the risks around defamation and breach of confidentiality might be said to be somewhat reduced, given that adverse consequences in these areas depend in large part upon the relevant content entering the public domain.

stop sign - right to privacyData protection, however, is a rather different animal; the individual's right to privacy is such that the regulatory environment is extremely protective, and even the transmission of information within a private network can create significant problems if data controllers do not have due regard to their legal obligations.

This is where the key features of ESM can create unique issues for data controllers. Whereas many companies remain ambivalent (or even restrictive) towards their employees' use of social media in the workplace, under ESM systems employees are actively encouraged to participate. This creates a culture in which some employees may not feel entirely comfortable, either because they are not personally inclined towards using social media or because they are required to share more personal data (such as their employment and educational history) more widely. The obvious consequence is an increased risk of objection to an employer's data processing activities, at least unless those employers are prepared to invest significantly in tailoring the system to ensure such objections are addressed.

Another cultural issue around ESM systems is that they are designed to facilitate speedy, efficient and in some cases more informal information flows. As such, employees are likely to post content very differently from the way they send emails or conduct telephone conversations. In some cases employees may not fully consider the implications of the information they are providing, and may be more likely to post inappropriate content in the heat of the moment. This makes it all the more important that companies provide a very clear message to employees about how ESM should be used.

padlocked disc - security measuresFinally (and perhaps most significantly), like all social networks ESM depends on reaching a certain critical mass in order to unlock its value. However, scale brings challenges as well as benefits, since the more information that is collected and the more complex the ESM system becomes, the more management it will require. As a result companies will need to have absolute clarity on the types of personal data that may be collected, the purposes for which it is used, and the access and security measures that are put in place to protect it.

Ensuring appropriate management of data flows is particularly important if information can be accessed by group companies or third parties in countries outside the EEA. As we have previously discussed, international transfers of personal data must be carried out in accordance with the EU Data Protection Directive meaning certain data transfers are only permitted if they are legitimised by a solution such as the use of appropriate data transfer agreements. In addition, companies running ESMs that rely on cloud-hosted platforms will need to consider the potential impact of data protection laws in other jurisdictions. Where, for example, ESMs may be accessed by personnel based in the USA those communications will be subject to the Patriot Act, meaning companies allow the authorities access to them. As such, employees must understand that communications may ultimately be viewed by third party organisations.

ESM can undoubtedly fuel productivity and efficiency, but using these tools also involves inherent risks which require careful management. The firms that stand to benefit most from ESM will be those that can strike the right balance between embracing innovative and progressive networking strategies and ensuring that the right control structures exist around them.

If you have any questions on this article or would like to propose a subject to be addressed by the Global Data Hub please contact us.

Social media as an enterprise tool
Richard Craig


Richard takes a look at the growing use of social media and its progress as an enterprise tool.

"Like all social networks ESM depends on reaching a certain critical mass in order to unlock its value. However, scale brings challenges as well as benefits, since the more information that is collected and the more complex the ESM system becomes, the more management it will require."