My daughter is studying earthquakes in social science at the moment. While I was helping her to study for a test, I was struck by the similarities between the geographic impact of an earthquake and the business impact of information spreading on social media.
Earthquakes are measured on the Richter scale, with an earthquake of 0 to 2 magnitude being imperceptible. From 2 to 4, people start to detect the sensation and objects may rattle. By 5, everyone will feel the quake, and poorly constructed buildings can be damaged.
A 6 on the Richter scale will mean that some buildings collapse and the quake can be felt hundreds of meters from the epicenter. Major damage to all buildings would be experienced by 7, and 8 would bring about total destruction of all buildings. The strongest earthquake ever recorded had a magnitude of 8.9.
The ripple effect of social media
In the world of social media, although most organizations have policies and processes in place governing who may say what on which official blogs, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, anyone employed by a company is perceived as representing that company. What they say can have a ripple effect on the company reputation, much like the shockwaves radiating out from the epicenter of an earthquake.
If the comment is unsavory, it’s like it has a high magnitude on the social Richter scale, and the ripple effect will be far more devastating and widespread.
Someone at a high-profile company will probably be followed by competitors and members of the media. If he or she were to speak inappropriately about their company, the dissemination of that message would be rapid and make huge shockwaves, doing a lot of damage to the organization and its reputation.
And of course, there will be aftershocks.
The Richter scale of social media and data dissemination
0 – 2: General social media commentary, garnering no particular negative interest from the industry and media.
2: A throwaway negative comment about a work situation. Some followers or blog readers may notice it, but the situation isn’t newsworthy and the comment isn’t passed on.
4: A negative comment is made on a situation of public interest. It is passed on and raises some eyebrows but does no permanent damage to the company’s reputation.
5: An ill-considered comment about a sensitive issue by an involved party is circulated and re-tweeted. It is picked up by some media, and some aspects of the businesses reputation and ethics are called into question.
6: There is widespread fall-out from a negative comment that impacts on the fundamentals of the way a company does business. The coverage is widespread. The share price dips.
7: Major damage is done to the company. People are fired, the overall reputation is permanently damaged and the share price drops through the floor.
8: Total destruction of the business.
Protecting your company from devastation
It’s because of the increasing openness and rapid transmission of the digital age, that all organizations need to consider the implications of their staff’s activities in social media and on the corporate network – ensuring that they have iron-clad policies and procedures in place to prevent earthquakes before they happen.