Auditing Social Media Part 1 - How to Eat an Elephant

Auditing social media can be likened to trying to eat an elephant, because it's big, risky, easy to get spooked and sometimes it can trample you just when you think you have it under control. Auditors face a challenge just in not being overwhelmed. In this first blog post of a series of three I show how to get the social media elephant under control as the first step in not getting trampled under foot. The secret - ensuring that social starts with sound strategy.

- See Part 2 here - the Governance Framework
- Part 3 is the 6 Step Social Media Audit Program - for Internal Auditors

You know the story of the 6 auditors, blindfolded and feeling their around the social media elephant and describing it:

Six blind auditors auditing the social media elephantThey began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said".

Social media can be audited from many directions, but to ensure coverage and completeness and to gain proper assurance it needs to be viewed holistically, like a birds-eye view of the elephant.

Here is a potential social media disaster scenario

To understand why strategy is important, let's take a hypothetical case of content which could appear in social media.

Auditing social media example comments

When you think about it you can see that the implications of these messages go right across an organisation. It's not just a "social media" issues, nor a marketing issue. It's not just a brand reputation or PR issue. The response to this requires coordination and clarification across all those mentioned plus purchasing, retail store ;management, customer experience, supplier relations, government relations, regulators, logistics and HR / training.

We're talking about cross-functional coordination, about an effective escalation and response process, and about a coherent and aligned response which reflects the strategic elements of the current business plan across many parts of the organisation.

Coherent social media strategy essential for effective social media auditing

Clearly none of those actions can be taken unless there is an alignment and a clear coordinated plan to act in social, which requires that a social media strategy have been developed which links to various line-of-business and functional strategies.

What's that I hear you say? "We already have an effective Social Media Policy".

A Social Media Policy is not Social Media Governance

I'm glad to hear that, but as Auditors know, a Policy does not governance make! Just as Safety Rules do not make Safety Governance, a Social Media Policy does not make Social Media Governance. A Social Media Policy is important. It is an important component of governance. But is a only one component. 

When social media has been mainly the responsibility of one department, say Marketing, then only rarely is it guided by an effective cross-functional strategy. For individuals in a single department it is often hard to see how to fully develop an effective strategy - mostly the activities are just that, tactical activities within a narrow framework. That leaves gaps which can make organisations vulnerable. The social media elephant can veer in an unexpected direction, and with terrifying momentum.

Good news - an effective methodology for social media strategy development

In our own 8-Phase Social Media Strategy methodology we systematically work with all stakeholders as we progress though the process. Of particular relevance to auditors is Phase 4 Protect, and Phase 8 Monitor. You need to ensure that fit-for-purpose protections are in place, which include the Social Media Policy, and staff training, and you also need to ensure that effective monitoring of social media is taking place.

Social Media Strategy 8 Phase Methodology Kinship Digital

Notice that the Social Media Policy is just one aspect of this process - within Phase 4. All the other Phases have a series of actions and outputs that are part of the total strategy development process. 

Auditor's Alert!: if your organisation does not have a systematic, complete, cross-functional approach to developing social media strategy then you are facing exposures which may be both surprising and unacceptable.

A social media risk management program requires cross-functional input

We've talked about the cross-functional nature of social media strategy and governance, and therefore we cannot emphasise enough that a properly constructed social media strategy and governance process requires cross-functional input.

As an auditor, if you do not see that cross-functional input then alarm bells should start ringing. Start thinking about how you handle a cross-functional social media crisis and you will quickly start to identify the risks to your organisation.

A social media risk management program requires cross-functional input

Questions to ask in setting out to audit social media

These are your most important opening assessment questions:
  1. Do we have in place a social media Strategy which is a real strategy, not a series of tactics?
  2. Has the Strategy used a formal development process, which has effective risk mitigation steps?
  3. Were multiple stakeholders and disciplines consulted or engaged during the Strategy development?
  4. By what process is the Strategy maintained and reviewed?

Social media without a strategy is like investing in the recommendations of one blind man who has felt one part of the elephant, without knowing what the beast is - from an auditor's perspective that is a very risky business decision.

Summary Part 1 of auditing social media

Not having a proper Social Media Strategy exposes your organisation to potentially unacceptable exposures not just in marketing or PR but across the whole dimension of stakeholder relationships. When an Auditor hears this "Our strategy is to use .... (Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest / etc)" then that should start alarm bells ringing. Those platforms are merely tools, not a strategy. That type of conversation is a sure clue that no real social media strategy exists, and hence no effective social media governance.

If you get drawn into discussions about platforms - Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter etc - then you are in the noise, and you are trying to eat an elephant by starting with his tusks. That's probably going to end up with you impaled and then trampled under foot. 

In Part 2 we'll present a Governance Framework for social media, which Auditors can use to plan the task of effective social media auditing. Part 3 outlines a 6 step social media audit approach.

Download my complete SOPAC 2013 Presentation: Auditing Social Media - the practicalities (Slideshare, PDF).

Walter Adamson
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