Time to get more sociable!

Still holding out against social networking? What on earth for?
Peter Cochrane
 

“In just six years, social networking has gone from an insignificant curiosity to become the primary mode of electronic communication for many.”

Dr. Peter Cochrane
Writer, Blogger & Advisor
silicon.com

What is your policy on social media at work? Do you even have such a policy?

If you’ve been treating it as something that will go away if you ignore it, you’re not only ignoring a potential security risk; you’re missing out on a major marketing asset. New services and tools make social networking easier to manage – and more rewarding.

Google is the latest online service to join the networking craze, launching its own network called Google+, which offers various features for sharing of information. Google also recently invited social sites to integrate Google Analytics, which will enable businesses to measure the amount of interest in their content across social media.

There are also tools now being developed to assist in managing social media content. HP recently unveiled its Social Intelligence Solution, which allows companies to keep track of their brand on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and to spot queries or deal with criticism by noting the sentiment of messages and the context in which they are posted. Twitter has also released an analytics tool for website owners to see how much of their content is moving across the Twitter network, and how much traffic Twitter is sending back to their sites. Another recent Twitter update allows businesses to create their “own brand” pages.  Facebook, meanwhile, is giving businesses the ability to add a ‘Subscribe’ button to their sites, so users can follow their brand on Facebook without having to navigate to the site – the public posts will instead appear in their news feeds.

DON’T FIGHT IT – JOIN IT

Get one thought straight: trying to ban social media activity at work is likely to be counter-productive. You personally may not see its value, but it’s rapidly overtaking email as the main form of online communication.

“In just six years, social networking has gone from an insignificant curiosity to become the primary mode of electronic communication for many,” prominent tech blogger Peter Cochrane wrote recently. The percentage of population estimated to be using some form of social media is now above 40% in North America, and above 30% in South America and Europe.

Companies that make social networking a no-no altogether are risking uncontrolled networking about themselves. Resentful employees may start malicious, anonymous rumours that are difficult to refute unless the business has its own social media presence. Microblogging media like Twitter make it too easy for a disgruntled person to send a quick message in anger, with serious repercussions.

Far better, then, to have a sensible policy on social networking in the workplace. Such a policy will inform staff about the difference between personal and business networking. They have to realise that social media are deemed to be publishing sites under the law, and that damaging comments about third parties are therefore actionable for defamation. Anyone senior enough to have access to confidential information will know not to post it on Facebook. By having your own, official social media pages, maintained by a responsible person, you’ll be able to manage better what is said publicly about your business.

By making social media an integral part of your marketing strategy, you are normalising its presence in the workplace and thus encouraging sensible use. A vibrant workplace social network is also a handy recruiting tool.

However, a clear and firm security policy should go hand-in-hand with company networking. A Symantec survey found that social media incidents cost companies an average of more than four million dollars in the 2010-2011 financial year in stock price, litigation or direct financial costs.

With pressure also growing on businesses to allow personal devices into their network, security policies must be especially stringent on defining permissible business and personal use. Social networks are prime targets for malware makers, and one user accepting what looks like a tempting offer can introduce a malicious application into their company’s system, capable of stealing data. Options for management of networking including granting varied levels of access (eg: full-time access for marketing staff, restricted for others), or setting up a separate wi-fi network outside your main system just for social media use.

A comprehensive stand-alone company policy on social media use that is clearly understood by everybody is preferable to both open slather and a blanket prohibition. That way, you can exploit the benefits of modern marketing while (hopefully) avoiding the pitfalls.

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