Most businesses may now have social media accounts, but they aren’t really harnessing all social media’s enormous potential and value. Are you a business leader? Taking the leap into social media can help you get maximum exposure and connection with your customers through very little effort and spend. Are you an employer? You could consider how social media affects the way you structure your organisation or the way you design core management processes.

Even the world’s leading politicians and business magnates often use social media to spread key messages, achieve strategic goals of international and historic value, and talk to followers and customers daily.

For example, when US President Barack Obama won the federal election in 2012, his three simple words on Twitter — “four more years” — became the world’s most re-tweeted post in history. More recently it took only a day for the YouTube video of his final speech at the White House Correspondents dinner to garner more than 1M views.

Globally, perhaps few can forget how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on almost every popular social media platform — including Facebook, Instagram and Weibo — then. Celebrities and prominent business leaders from Asia and America had filmed themselves dumping iced water on their heads to raise funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s.

More than 17 million people uploaded their challenge videos to Facebook and these videos were watched by 440 million people a total of 10 billion times. The campaign brought in over US$100 million in funds for the ALS Association, a five-fold increase from the year before.

However, for all its opportunities and benefits, the inappropriate use of social media can have serious ramifications for any organisation. This means that there is a very real need for clear online policies and training for employees around the use of social media at work, and social media during their personal time if they speak as a brand ambassador or are clearly associated with your organisation in their personal capacity.

Staying in control

Your company’s social media channels reveal the public persona of your organisation and form the voice of your brand. The content and opinions shared through social media, whether it’s via Twitter, Facebook or Weibo will be taken as the opinion of your brand/organisation as a whole.

Therefore, it’s very important that any employee who has access to these online channels is well-briefed on what makes acceptable online conduct, as well as the strategy/tone of voice of the organisation. This isn’t just about what is actually said through a social network, but also about the way in which you interact with other users.

Take a free online course to find out what platforms will work most effectively for your company, and make sure you are communicating effectively to the widest potential audience possible.

Clear policies and training

Clear policies should be laid out around social media usage at work — both in a personal and professional context. All existing employees should be aware of what constitutes as acceptable usage and new employees should also be given an introduction to your internet protocol.

Official social media channels should be carefully monitored and access only given to the relevant people in the business. Training on social media etiquette, upholding brand reputation and online crisis management should also be made available to those employees looking after your company’s social media.

Social media usage and policies will vary greatly from company to company, but points that you could consider in your guidelines may include:

  • Determining the situations and purpose of social media in your organisation
  • Acting professionally and what this entails
  • Protecting individual privacy and company reputation
  • If/when it’s acceptable to use personal networking sites during working hours
  • Process for dealing with, and escalating feedback received through social media sites

Social media in recruitment

Some employers may choose to use social media accounts to screen potential candidates during a recruitment process. This should be a warning to job hunters about upholding a respectable online presence.

However, there is also some risk to the employer when using this as a recruitment strategy — namely around issues of privacy, data protection and discrimination.

Personal information about an applicant’s social or family life, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation may well be published on a social networking page — and these must not be used in any way to influence recruitment decisions.

This information is intended as a guideline only, and the use of social media can vary greatly between organisations and industries. To find out what’s appropriate for your business, please get in touch with your own marketing or legal department or external advisors.

Even on a personal basis, your online reputation can often make or break your career. Find out how to manage your online reputation and the role of social media in your job search.

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