Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are just a few examples of the technology available to design firms and other businesses to promote their business and the services they offer. For relatively low cost, social media technology allows many firms to interact with current and potential clients and increases the awareness of the services their offer to a much larger audience than is typically available through traditional marketing techniques. In addition to the ability to reach a broader audience, some point to the speed of information sharing that social media technologies allow. But the speed of information sharing via social media technologies is also cited by some as a potential risk. In response to the growing use of social media by design firms, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Risk Management Committee published in 2016 the White Paper; “Social Media for Engineering Firms – Benefits and Risk.” Although written specifically for engineers, the issues discussed can easily be applied to architectural and other design firms. Among the issues covered in ACEC’s paper are the advantages of using social media to market a firm’s services and the various social media technologies available. But the paper also discusses some of the potential risks of social media, including potential damage to a firm’s reputation or the sharing of inaccurate or confidential information. The paper also covers ways to mitigate the risk of social media and the need for firms to have a social media policy. It is not unusual to see reports in the news of projects being over budget and behind schedule; that a building’s mechanical systems are not functioning properly; that there has been a structural failure resulting in an injury; or that there has been a fatality during construction. Now consider a situation where a member of your firm, in response to reports that the project is delayed, posts on the firm’s blog; “If the project is delayed, it is because the owner had no idea what he was doing?” Consider a situation where there has been a fatality on a construction site and a member of your firm posts pictures on their personal Facebook site with the message “I was on that construction site when this happened.” Both comments on their face may seem innocent but may have legal ramifications, result in a claim of professional negligence, and make the defense of a claim challenging. ACEC’s White Paper recognizes the advantages and potential risk social media and concludes by stating that: “The use of social media offers the potential for increased visibility and more efficient communications for engineering firms. But, the risks are many and real, and must be managed. Risks can result from the broad categories of reputation, legal, and operational/financial issues.
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