How should my business balance the risks of social media with the rewards of this increasingly dominant and highly profitable marketing medium? That’s the very insightful question that a CEO asked me during a presentation I gave on information leadership for a Vistage CEO conference.
Think of your move into social media (Facebook/Fan/Business Pages, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) like you would approach the task of helping your fifteen-year-old daughter prepare to drive on her own. You love her more than anything on earth and would do anything for her (just like you will go to great lengths grow your business), but that doesn’t mean you just hand her the keys. Trying to forbid or ignore the movement into social marketing is like telling your teen that they can’t get their license. It isn’t going to happen, so you might consider putting down the denial and controlling those pieces of change that are within your power. The task is to maximize the positives of her newly bestowed freedom while minimizing any negatives; the same is true in social media.
Here’s a simple plan to follow that will help keep you safe and productive:
- Understand the Risks & Rewards. Just like you need to know the risks of a teen driving (peer pressure, alcohol, inexperience, inferior equipment), you need to fully understand the risks of operating this powerful piece of equipment we call social media or social networking. Privacy Concerns: Users who fail to customize their Facebook privacy, security and sharing settings are giving away massive amounts of information to other Facebook users, Facebook Vendors (e.g., Farmville), Facebook itself and potentially competitors, thieves and social engineers. Over Exposure: You can share too much on Facebook, including posts, photos and videos that you later regret uploading. If done improperly or without thought, this can lead to increased risk of identity theft, reputation hijacking, burglary or fraud. Reputation Damage: AFLAC fired comedian Gilbert Godfrey as their spokesperson for making a negative comment about the insurance giant on his wall. How you and your employees use social media directly influences your reputation. Account Takeover: Imagine a pornography crime-ring taking over your fan page for a day. It’s usually not this extreme of a case, but accounts are constantly being compromised and used for nefarious and illegal purposes (sending SPAM, peddling pornography, covering crimes). Just because there are risks doesn’t mean you abandon the medium. It means that you prepare for them, just like training your daughter to drive defensively, break properly on ice and make smart choices about who gets in the car.
- Define Your Destination. Many businesses that utilize social media don’t actually know why they are using it, other than it’s the thing to do. But using it effectively takes a huge time and knowledge investment, so make sure you define what you want to achieve before you invest. Are you there to make friends, to network, to increase visibility, reshape your reputation or improve customer service? Driving without a destination in mind might be fun, but it will ultimately get you nowhere.
- Choose the Right Equipment. Once you have defined your objective, you will have a better idea of which social medium to use (Facebook, Fan Page, Twitter, etc.). If your objective is to get your daughter safely from one place to another, you will choose a very different car than if you are trying to enhance her image with friends by buying a sports car. Trying to be part of every last social network means that you will use none of them effectively. Choose one or two platforms and take the time to perform the final two steps.
- Fasten Your Seat belt. An hour spent understanding and modifying the default privacy and security settings (which are very lax by default) on Facebook or another social site can save you and your organization tragic amounts of data loss and abuse. Our refusal as a society to take this simple, available step to protect our information is the equivalent of not fastening our seat belts while driving. Is it slightly inconvenient and a occasionally uncomfortable? Yes. Does it drastically increase your safety? Without question. With great power comes great responsibility, and we must start communicating that to others around us.
- Educate Your Driver. This knowledge, from awareness to customization, is only effective if it is passed on to others. You might know how to drive safely, but that doesn’t mean your daughter has picked it up by osmosis. The same is true inside of your organization; it’s not good enough for you do drive safely, the other members of the team must do the same – and not just for their own good, but because it also helps you be safe. After all, just like your daughter will ride in another teen’s car (and you want them to be well trained), your contacts will be handling your data in a social context (think of the picture of you at a St. Patrick’s Day party they consider posting) and need to know how to treat it.
There is nothing gained by ignoring or denying this social movement. It won’t be stopped and you will be part of it, either directly or indirectly. In turn, your business will be affected by how the employees and executives approach and even leverage the energy of social media. If you’re not out there educating your drivers, they are off doing it on their own anyway, seat belt-less and clueless.
John Sileo trains organizations on information leadership, including social media control, identity theft prevention and reputation management. His satisfied clients include the Department of Defense, FDIC, Pfizer and Homeland Security. To bring John in to speak to your organization, contact his staff on 800.258.8076 or watch him entertain audiences with vital content at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.