John Iwata, a senior vice president at IBM, says it's "a critical risk worth taking" and adds that for IBM, it is "critical to our future success." Stephen Prignano, a partner in the law firm of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, says, "It can be a good thing for a company or an extraordinarily bad thing." They're both talking about the same thing: social media like Facebook and Twitter. The phenomenon has young people around the world glued to their PDAs, and of late has caused the world's dictators to tremble. And increasingly, at least some companies are starting to realize that whatever they might think about this leap in Internet communication, they have to start paying attention to it.

"Social media is one of those things where at this point, you have no choice but to become involved," says Morgan O'Rourke, director of publications at the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS). "It's gotten to the point where if you don't do it, it's like, 'What's the matter with you?'"

The benefit, says O'Rourke, is that "your story or brand can instantly reach as many people as there are on the globe who have computers." The risk, he says, is that an unfavorable story or a company secret can reach all those people just as quickly, and –"you can't get rid of the bad story once it's out there."

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