Sceptics are becoming fewer in number, as more and more organisations recognise that social media is no longer a fad that exists on the periphery. But how do you engage in social media without risking damage to your corporate reputation?

For larger organisations, in the public and private sectors, the real and perceived risk to reputation via social media is paralysing them into not engaging via social media at all. Yet all the evidence points to the fact that it can no longer be ignored. Denial poses the greater risk.

For many years now, PR has been primarily about reputation management. And having thoughtful internal and external communications strategies to enhance and protect that reputation.

Most CEOs and Boards are now comfortable with the need for proactive communications to stakeholders, including traditional media; and how having professional issues management support can avert crises that damage organisations. But in this 24 hour media cycle, and courtesy of social media channels such as twitter, facebook and youtube, communicating in the social media space has never been more critical in proactively managing messages.

If your customers, your critics, your competitors are commenting via social media, and you are not in a position to be a part of that conversation or respond to criticism, you cannot expect to have your points of view taken into consideration.

It is no wonder that many risk-averse boardrooms are reticent about social media, and question perhaps the value of it. Is it merely giving staff an opportunity to “facebook” on company time?

Corporate social media strategies, like all communications strategies, must have clear objectives and align with business goals. And there must be strict social media protocols to allay the fears of even the most conservative Chairman of the Board.

Social media is no longer a “bolt on”, but must be a core part of all communications strategies. If you’re not a part of it, rest assured your competition, even the ones you haven’t heard of yet, are.

Kristin Devitt is Managing Director of KDPR, a Brisbane-based communications agency established in 2003. KDPR specialises in reputation management for organisations, and develops and implements integrated communications strategies for clients across all industries and professions.