Risks of social media: business is not personal

Social media is all the rage. Facebook and Twitter have millions of users broadcasting information to each other in an amorphous and humongous online social web that now extends beyond desktop computers into iPhones and Blackberries as they roam the globe. Many companies see this as fertile territory for promoting their brands, and some are jumping in quickly. Too quickly in some cases.

Participation in social media is not risk-free. A recent article in Slate points out not only that business use is not the same as personal use, but how this confusion can result in anything from a minor Twitter faux pas to something that can significantly harm a company’s image. To quote the article:

The problem though, Dietrich says, is that “they’ve been using social media in a personal not a business application.” Understanding what Facebook and Twitter are is different from understanding what they should be for your specific brand, she explains. “By letting an intern determine this, you’re putting your brand and reputation in the hands of someone who has no experience.”

This is not simply a problem for interns since anyone can be making such mistakes. The social media persona of a company should be well vetted: knowing the company’s products and services, policies, and messaging guidelines. They should also be familiar with both the social media platform (e.g. Twitter) and how it’s used by the groups of people who use it and with whom you want to interact. For instance, avid vacation travelers are much more likely to respond to promotional tweets than those that share travel photography.

There are many tools that can make it easier to “participate” in social media, but these have their own risks. For instance, there are many ways to automate canned responses, but Home Depot made got some negative attention last year when its automated responses went our for every use of the word “skateboard.”

In summary, the ease of communicating on social networking can blind us to the risks of doing so poorly. Stop and think before jumping in. Know your goals, your information, your platform, and your audience.

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