Do your employees Tweet? Are they chatting on Facebook? Do they network on LinkedIn? Not to mention FastPitch, Digg, Stumble, Flickr, and Plaxo, as well as blogs and the myriad of other online social – and business – vehicles. Even from the office, people can be connected to thousands of friends, colleagues and family.
Internet business is, by its nature, web-friendly. Principals and staff are usually web-savvy and engaged online. Customers and clients are identified and cultivated online, through search engine optimization of the business Web site, e-blasts, e-mail campaigns and social media marketing.
Where does an Internet business draw a line between “social media” and “business media?” Or should it?
Most Internet businesses are enthusiastic about the use of social media as a prospecting and networking tool. Ideally on the cutting edge of the web, Internet business should encourage employees to explore social media. Identify the ways in which social media can assist in marketing, sales, public relations and industry awareness. Establish and maintain a forum for discussing how personal/professional participation in social media can benefit your brand.
Instead of establishing a policy for social media, Internet businesses should consider outlining “best practices” for their employees. Some points to include would be:
• Take responsibility for what you write: use your name and, when appropriate, your title and company name
• Respect the company’s confidential and proprietary information
• Exercise good judgment and common sense
• Avoid inflammatory, biased or prejudicial comments in all forums
• Be aware that readers may include merchants, prospective merchants, their clients, employees, consultants and competitors
• Be alert to issues, complaints or problems that should be brought to the attention of the business principals
• Maintain a balance between social media and other work-related tasks
It is important for an Internet business to establish a corporate presence on the key social media sites. One person at a company should be charged with setting up and maintaining a business listing on LinkedIn. Employees should be encouraged to affiliate themselves with the corporate profile, and to build their professional network of existing and prospective clients.
For many Internet businesses, a Facebook fan page and a corporate Twitter account are also useful. Much more than a “sales tool” for pushing your product or services, these are forums from which you can cull perceptions and responses of customers to your brand. Facebook and Twitter are valuable as a sort of fluid “focus group,” which business owners can continually monitor.
Business blogs are an excellent add-on to your Web site. Some companies, in fact, have opted for an entirely blog-based site, where content is renewed on a consistent basis. “Followers” are welcomed and comments are encouraged. Many blogs grow with the contributions of multiple writers; various employees are featured on a business blog. If employees maintain their own blogs, a statement about how and when the company can be discussed is necessary. Take note of the school employee who has gone "undercover" to blog on Mrs. Q's School Lunch Blog about the dismal state of school lunches in her district: she is incognito and fears that her blog posts may be grounds for dismissal.
Social media is an evolving and interactive facet of the web. Internet businesses should embrace the opportunity to extend their brand. They should also be engaged and in control of how their brand bridges the multitude of online forums.
Next: I’ll write on how to monitor mentions of your company in social media.