Social media risks and rewards


Key survey findings

  • LinkedIn (32%), Facebook (20%) and Twitter (18%) were the three most widely used among respondent companies
  • 55% feel that social media will be an important component of corporate marketing efforts going forward
  • 66% see their company's use of social media increasing over the next 12 months
  • 59% of companies surveyed do not perform a social media risk assessment
  • 36% conduct social media training, compared to 21% in the 2011 study

A study by Financial Executives Research Foundation and Grant Thornton LLP

While the exponential growth in social media has provided organizations with many new tools for communication and interaction, these tools have also created new types of risk. In this age of increasing transparency, customers, investors and regulators are expecting companies to be clear in their communications and timely and forthcoming with important information. Social media has taken what used to be word of mouth and allowed it to now be heard by millions and spread virally with a nearly instantaneous reaction. Customers, competitors, regulators and even employees are all contributing to a global stream of information about a company’s products, services, brand or industry.

For most companies, opting out of the social media world is no longer feasible. Financial Executives Research Foundation Inc. (FERF), in collaboration with Grant Thornton LLP, developed a 32-question online survey and conducted in-depth interviews to produce this report, titled Social media risks and rewards [PDF]. The survey was conducted during May and June 2013, and was completed by 111 senior-level executives from public and private companies. The interviews involved eight questions and were conducted during June 2013. The information contained in this report is derived from insights gathered during the online survey and the in-depth interviews.


Key interview findings include the following:

  • Governance for social media compliance remains fragmented.
  • More companies have or are developing policies that address social media governance and risks, but they are not conducting risk assessments.
  • The extent to which companies train their employees on social media policy varied considerably.
  • The importance of the results of the National Labor Relations Board investigations into dozens of social media cases could not be overstated. An example of a social media policy can be found in the study.
  • While social media use by companies has grown, their use of key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the positive/negative impact of their social media activity has lagged.

“The increase in risk and investigations related to social media underscores the need to have a considered approach to social media risk assessments,” said Mark Sullivan, Practice Leader for National Investigations in the Forensic and Valuation Services group.

The research shows that social media will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. Some companies have already established a strong social media presence, while others recognize its potential risks and rewards and are now planning their next steps. As the awareness of the risks associated with social media continue to receive more public attention, organizations will need to have policies and procedures in place to respond more adequately.

Download the full report [PDF]