Many employers have begun to use online social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, for a number of purposes, from recruiting to marketing and sales, to name promotion and branding efforts. Those organizations that have not yet made the steps to go online but are considering it and seem to want guidance that is more concrete and definite. The newness of social media, however, makes this difficult.
During the past year, I’ve written a lot, talked a lot, and counseled a lot of employers about social media. I’ve also made the leap into the Twitterverse and become a believer in the potential that Twitter has to offer. Looking back at this experience, I think there are three principles that apply to social media. These three principles can serve as a guide for employers who are considering social media as a business tool, but apply equally well to those of us who currently are online to serve as a sort of litmus test. If your online activities serve these three purposes, they’re probably going to fall in the beneficial-as opposed to risky-category.
They would serve an equivalent goal if incorporated into social networking policies, giving employees a good sense of the reasons behind online engagement and providing a sense of purpose for online activity.
The primary reason for social networking is to share. Users share knowledge and information on every topic imaginable. And one of the reasons that social media has become so popular so quickly is its ability to connect individuals in a more direct and immediate way than previously possible. When you’re thinking about potential content, ask yourself whether the information you’re about to share contributes something to the online community.
In any good community, participants understand that the dialogue must go both ways. No one likes someone who talks only about himself. You must listen, as well as talk. This means that you want to answer questions and comment on relevant topics. A successful social media experience is interactive, so avoid trying to always be the star of the show.
In light of the first two themes, this third theme should be self-evident. You’re going to be contributing to the online community with your conversation. Be honest and transparent when engaging in this conversation. If you promote or even discuss your organization, its products, or services, always disclose the affiliation. Don’t “pretend” to be an average-Joe consumer if you actually work for the company. Failure to disclose the true nature of your relationship can cause you to lose all credibility and result in more harm to your organization than the benefits you intended.