I have, along with many other social media evangelists, watched with interest as Chris Cairns, a famous New Zealand cricketer, went to court to defend himself against allegations of match fixing.  These allegations came about because of a message which was sent, as a tweet, which then became viral.  Chris Cairns took Lalit Modi (ex-chairman of the Indian Premier League) to court and won a settlement worth around NZD$200,000, possibly more.
We often talk about a digital footprint.  The common view is that everything you put onto the internet will be there for ever.  This is something that is being taught in New Zealand schools as our children embark on using the internet.  Social Media, Web 2.0, whatever you want to call it, it is the internet as it has always been, in the eyes of a tween.
I remember, as a child, being taught that you can never take words back.  We were taught to guard every word that came out of our mouth.  Once it's out, it's out.  The difference being that the internet gives massive amplification as hundreds, thousands and possibly millions become influenced by what we say.  There is no such thing as whispering in the world of Social Media.

So far, I have discussed issues on a more personal note.  However, what would this mean to your business if someone negatively tweeted about your brand?  What if they sent out a message about the bad customer experience they just had?  What if that went viral while you're sleeping?  Do you even know what people are saying about your brand?

I talk to businesses all the time about how they are using Social Media.  They tell me about how wonderful their Facebook page is, their twitter profile etc, but they are not as good as they think they are.  They send out tweets all the time, but when you search for them on twitter, nobody is talking about them.  They have a half baked social strategy, which leaves them exposed to the risk of bad sentiment.

On the other hand, a business needs to also be concerned with what their own people are saying on Social Networks.  An employee could damage the company brand by tweeting something thoughtless about a competitor.  I had never heard of Lalit Modi before the 'Cairns' case, but now I know of him for all of the wrong reasons.  Don't allow your yet to be known brand to be destroyed by becoming known for similar reasons.

Some people reading this are going to be saying, well, Social Media is not for us, there are too many risks.  I'm going to bury my head in the sand on this.  Sorry, I have news and it is all bad!  You don't get to opt out of being a Social Business.  This is not a choice you get to make.  Your customers, competitors, all and sundry, pull you into the fray.

What is important is that you have a plan.  I talk a lot with people about putting together a Social Business Agenda.  There is one outlined in Sandy Carter's book, Get Bold.  The  other thing which you can do fairly quickly, is put in place some Social Computing Guidelines for all of your employees, IBM have some which they share freely, take a look at them and see if you can make them fit your needs - view.