Today’s social networking technology has opened doors for companies to market themselves to an audience that far exceeds what would have only been dreamed about five years ago. For example, on the social networking site Facebook, there are more than 400 million active users! These users upload three billion photos each month, and an additional five billion pieces of content (notes, web links, news stories, blog posts etc.) are shared weekly. Furthermore, the creation of Facebook pages has allowed local businesses, brands, musicians, and all types of organizations to create a presence on Facebook at no cost! Users can interact and affiliate as a “fan” of a business or organization in the same way they interact with other user profiles. Once a user is fan of a business on Facebook, that person can share information about that business with their friends. The resulting wave of more than 5.3 billion Facebook fans has allowed businesses and organizations to communicate with their followers at a previously unheard of level of interaction.

Our organization, for example, has been able to use Facebook and LinkedIn as effective marketing tools. Through LinkedIn, readers can obtain various types of background information regarding our business. Additionally, our Facebook Page provides the public with information about what’s happening in our office and what events we are attending. We also are able to use Facebook to publicly recognize the good work of our employees.

With this increased public exposure, companies also are rightfully concerned about the content on these types of sites and the perception that is garnered about their organization. They must consider taking the appropriate steps to protect their corporate image, their employees’ character, and their clients’ brand.

The burden and accountability falls on the organization to establish crisp policies detailing what is appropriate for business marketing purposes and also what the expectations are for their employees’ participation in these social networking venues. The opportunity to post blogs, photos, and other details about corporate issues, or those related to employees’ personal discussions, can be overwhelmingly appealing. But obviously, some content may be inappropriate and best kept from public view.

Prior to entering the social networking world, companies should consider their social, ethical, and business responsibilities. They should consider risks such as reduced job productivity and focus, as well as the possibility of crossing the line and exposing client confidential information and proprietary processes, not to mention the complex issues surrounding freedom of speech.  

Therefore, it is critically important for companies to become proactive and communicate with their employees to determine an acceptable level of exchange relating to social networking. Issues including posting company information, personally focused information, and expectations of employing these communications either on or off the job should be outlined. An open company-wide meeting provides management an opportunity to introduce these policies and the reasons for their creation. It also allows employees an opportunity to ask questions as to what may or may not be appropriate, while providing them insight to the larger picture and ramifications of inappropriate communications. Educating your employees about the many positive professional advantages of social media is constructive, and at the same time, helps companies to mitigate their risk of inappropriate communications.