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Social media – friend or foe

Apr 16, 2012
By Ruth Hewitt. Many large companies both here in the UK and on the continent seem to have turned a blind eye and adopted a head in the sand approach to social media.

Phrases like “Facebook isn’t a professional medium for my business” and “Twitter is a waste of time” highlights the shocking ignorance and complete disregard for the most powerful communication medium of our time.

Mention the use of social media in a business setting to most companies and they will assume you are talking about restricting access to employees. That is only a very small part of the problem. They will probably say that they had made a decision to allow their staff to use social media networks – mainly Facebook – during their break periods, but not when they were supposed to be working. 

What most companies don’t realise is that the genie is already out of the bottle – like it or not - and social media has the ability to simultaneously enhance the way we work or destroy it.

What’s important, is to work out in what ways the various social media products can help your business and decide how you will exploit them and who will do it.  You need a policy.  Most companies don’t.  But that’s only the start.

Use social media to your Advantage

Many companies have Facebook accounts as a way of communicating with their customers.  Items can be displayed and sold on Facebook, news and events can be advertised, you can invite your customers to comment and make positive testimonials about your company – in fact it is the best word of mouth media tool you will find and extremely relevant to any business, including the relocation industry.

LinkedIn also has a value as long as you can manage it so that you are linked in to relevant contacts and groups to your industry.  Twitter can be excellent especially for driving followers to interesting items on your websites and getting your news items picked up by the press.

In an uncertain world of mistrust, there is a generation of people today who feel that they have to engage with you and your company to feel comfortable before they buy. If you are ‘liked’ on Facebook, linked with industry professionals and tweeted about in relevant circles, then this adds kudos in large quantities to your company profile.

The philosophy is as flawed as it is misguided, but ignore it and you will be left behind on the proverbial shelf.

Watch out for social media pitfalls

Of course, social media can be abused.  Your ‘Generation Y’ employees will be compelled to spend some time indulging in chats with friends.  It’s hard to stop and, perhaps, not worth worrying about.  But the dangers are much more frightening than a few lost minutes of productivity.

Everything you post on a social media platform is in the public domain.  There is free software available, such as Feedreader, that will look for any mention of a key word, or your company name, and list them.  The technology is widely used by journalists, including myself, for gathering information.  Should one of your employees Tweet to his wife, ‘we are just about to clinch a deal with BP, be late home’, you can guarantee it will be picked up, and probably by your competitors.  Scary!

Friend of mine recently dismissed a member of staff who immediately went on a campaign to discredit the company using social media.  It was bad news for the company as there then ensued a whole Facebook discussion about what a shocking company it was.  If it’s something defamatory and untrue you could have recourse to law, but the damage is done.

So real are these dangers that some education authorities have already put a social media policy in place, giving training to teaching staff regarding the pitfalls and advising on how to manage social media accounts in a responsible way.

Adopt a social media policy now and take charge of your social media before it bites you

Companies need to wake up and adopt a social media policy through training and guidance for staff.

Access should be limited during work time and staff made aware that they will be held responsible for any indiscretions regarding the company on social media sites. Personal safety should be paramount and often this is merely a case of education and awareness of the dangers.

Social media needs to be embraced by the marketing department and utilised to best advantage to enhance the business.

Remember that social networking is fast, it is quick to make a post and equally quick to remove it or respond in a positive way. The more positive actions you can make on your company’s behalf will counter any negative.

As mentioned before – the genie is out of the bottle. Social media is here to stay and for the foreseeable future and until the next craze comes along, companies in all industries need to embrace the challenge, take advantage of the positive parts and minimise the negative with a sound and responsible social media policy before it is too late.

Ruth Hewitt is a freelance writer

Killing the conversation

In a recent webinar organised by People Management magazine, employers were “… urged not to ‘kill the conversation’ on social media through restrictive workplace policies but to embrace social media technology.

Gareth Jones of Brubaker HR said that social media is a powerful opportunity that some organisations are not recognising. He said that some companies create a support community for their customers to build collaboration, trust and brand advocacy, then shut down similar conversations internally.  “Many negative perceptions about reduced staff productivity are unfounded,” he said. 

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