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Social media can be a double-edged sword for businesses. On the one hand, businesses can increase their reach and foster new relationships by using social media, but social media also can hurt businesses in a big way if not used correctly.
Steve Nicholls, a social media strategist who is the author of "Social Media in Business" (Bookinars, 2011), offers the following tips for businesses looking to expand their presence on social media without creating any headaches for themselves.
- It is all about the benefits: Social networking websites such as Facebook are just a very small part of social media. For business, social media is much more, providing four main benefits: communication, collaboration, community, and collective intelligence opportunities. Companies are still not fully aware of all of these. Understanding the various opportunities social media provides for business is the first step toward capitalizing on its potential.
- It is not simple: Social media is mostly user-friendly, but embracing it in business is far from simple. There is a huge difference between using Facebook and bringing the right aspects of social media into the DNA of a company. The amount and depth of information relating to social media are overwhelming, so capitalizing on the right combinations of social media tools for the company can be intricate.
- It is not free: One aspect that makes social media for business a very attractive avenue is that many tools are free to use, providing excellent cost-effective solutions to business. Bringing social media within a company is not completely free, however. Time is the key resource. Going too fast and adopting social media hastily can bring more risks than benefits. Doing it well requires learning and training processes that will need time.
- It can be immensely valuable: Social media opens doors to enormous markets. For instance, there are 850 million Facebook users and 50 million business people on LinkedIn, including the CEOs of the 500 top companies in the world. The business opportunities a company can get by connecting to only a small percentage of those people are extremely valuable. Markets like these simply cannot be ignored; thus businesses that are still hesitant as to how useful or important social media can be for them need to consider this aspect strategically.
- Its risks can be mitigated: Having a solid social media policy when incorporating social media is crucial to mitigating potential risks. Social media can open a company to security issues, PR issues and HR issues. While these risks are very real, it is essential not to let them inhibit progress; thus the key is to develop a sound social media policy that identifies the risks and mitigates them.
- Be open to social media: It is common for managers, employees and other players in an organization to have some prejudice against adopting social media within their organization, thinking it will mostly bring problems and waste company time. What is important to keep in mind is that benefits far outweigh risks. Having the will to invest time and mitigate possible risks through a clear social media policy will allow a company to increase its competitive advantage on the long run.
- Have a detailed process: It is easy to go enthusiastically in the wrong direction with social media. To prevent this from happening, managers need to have a step-by-step formula in order to analyze their internal and external business environments and develop a systematic, contextual approach to bringing social media within the realm of their organizations.
- Identify constraints of social media: Many constraints to adopting social media are invisible and therefore the hardest to identify. People issues are often the biggest obstacle to the implementation of social media, but these are often hidden from view. Thus making sure that all invisible constraints are identified is crucial to prevent them from erupting later on and undermining the project.
- Have clear goals: Perhaps the most important aspect to keep in mind when using social media for business is that it constantly needs to be fitted into the more general business goals of the company. Using social media just for the sake of using it will not have any positive impact, but instead might create more problems than benefits.
- Have an ongoing strategy: Social media is a constantly evolving avenue of opportunities; the tools that are useful today may not be useful tomorrow. As tools change, a winning social media strategy will be one that is able to capture all these innovations and constantly create the right combinations of tools for your business, according to the general business goals.