By TANZINA VEGA Published: November 14, 2010
As companies move to aggressively market themselves through Facebook fan pages, blog posts and Twitter updates, they are waving goodbye to the days when a corporate message could be tightly controlled by just a few managers in a communications office.
And in their haste to leverage the keyboard, many companies are finding an unwanted side effect — an inability to keep track of all the ephemeral thoughts and ideas they are sending into cyberspace. But a small suite of emerging technologies is offering solutions to help companies manage their social media presence, by archiving business communications or managing individual employees posts on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
“What if three years from now somebody comes and says, ‘I need every Facebook post, every tweet’ ?” said Paul Gunning, chief executive and president at Tribal DDB Worldwide, the digital division of DDB Worldwide, which is part of the Omnicom Group. The agency is in the early stages of presenting some clients with new social media management technologies that would crawl the Web and archive a company’s communications.
According to Mr. Gunning, agencies and advertisers need to keep records of the vast amounts of social media communications they release every day in order to protect themselves in the event of a lawsuit or claim of false or misleading advertising. Other companies, like financial services firms, need to collect the information to be in compliance with industry regulations.
“I look at it and it makes me shiver,” Mr. Gunning said about the quantities of posts companies put out, “and that’s just today.”
The agency is teaming with Nextpoint, which uses cloud-based tools to archive Web content, to present a product called Cloud Preservation to its clients. The partnership is the first of its kind for both companies.
“Because of the explosion of content generated by the Internet, you need to have an Internet solution for it,” said Rakesh Madhava, founder and chief executive of Nextpoint.
The product, which had its debut in August, uses Amazon Web services to crawl the Web and archive sites, blogs and social media posts that can then be stored, searched, tagged and exported. The cost of the service ranges from $15 a month for basic service to $2 million to $3 million a year for “a full-scale operating service,” Mr. Madhava said.
For companies that deal with compliance issues, the technology can be crucial.
“How do you document social media? How do you document advertising? Any client communications are supposed to be documented,” said Casey Smith, the president of Wiser Wealth Management, a small wealth management firm in Marietta, Ga. “How do you do that, if you have to keep post after post after post?”
Mr. Smith uses Cloud Preservation to follow all of the company’s social media posts and receives a weekly e-mail of the archive. “I would do daily if they offered it.”
Law firms are also seeing the importance of archiving a company’s social media presence.
“Someone may get sued for the content of their social media or the information in the social media may be relevant to the suit,” said Geoffrey A. Vance, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery and co-head of the firm’s electronic data management, privacy and discovery group. “If you haven’t preserved it, you’ve lost it.”
Tribal DDB is also exploring the use of a technology that would monitor posts that client employees make on their personal social networking accounts from within the corporate network. The product, called Social Sentry, allows employers to track what users are saying about the company or the brand on their personal social networking sites while they are at work.
Dan Romine, the president and chief executive officer of SocialLogix, said the product was intended to help mitigate the leaking of secret information and any damage to the brand that could occur as a result of an errant post.
If an employee posts something questionable, the software can notify the company by e-mail and even prevent the post from being published.
Mr. Romine is aware of the privacy implications his product could raise, but is careful to point out that the technology is only connected to the computer someone uses in the office and not a user’s personal computer. But he says the need for companies to protect themselves and control the brand message is in their best interests.
“It is a sensitive topic, and in the context of a corporation protecting its assets and protecting its intellectual property, it’s a touchy debate,” Mr. Romine said.
The topic is especially delicate as more companies encourage their employees to use social media explicitly or implicitly.
Manish Mehta, the vice president for social media and community at Dell, said the company’s goal was to embed social media into every function of the company. It has been training its employees on how to use social media through classroom sessions on the company policies and guidelines and on how to use sites like Twitter and Facebook at different levels.
In the last 10 weeks, Mr. Mehta says, Dell has trained 3,500 employees, and those who finish the training are then certified to use social media on behalf of the company. To manage its brand presence online, for the last few years the company has been using online tools and techniques like sentiment analysis to “listen” to conversations on the Web that refer to Dell. In addition, it is building a social media “command center” that will monitor “all the conversations that happen to Dell,” Mr. Mehta said.
But Mr. Mehta says the company does not use tracking technology to follow employees’ personal social media accounts.
“We don’t monitor and track what employees do,” Mr. Mehta said. “Those deterrents aren’t as effective as training and education are.”