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How to Be Un-Strategic Online

September 28, 2009

Despite the fact that personal usage of Facebook, Twitter, etc. is becoming so universal it’s approaching ubiquity, professional usage among businesses, colleges, and nonprofits lags far behind.

A recent USA Today article discussed how only 13% of admissions officials say their school has a policy about interacting with students on social networking sites.

Yikes. Tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be used strategically…or not…

And 2 ways to be very unstrategic online are:

  1. Not having a social media usage policy. This is a surefire recipe for PR problems. Entities who ignore the widespread usage of social networking sites often are dismayed when disgruntled employees reveal too much, share jokes in bad taste, or simply conduct private conversations in a public forum that can be misconstrued as representing the official company line. To combat these types of problems, ESPN recently came out with some guidelines for its employees to use when posting to social media sites — a great model for other businesses and colleges who have hesitated about taking the plunge. Employees do need to have clearly defined parameters of use and be reminded that even when they are speaking as themselves, they are still representatives of their business, college, or nonprofit. Failing to give your people some guidelines gives them no standard by which to determine appropriate use. But…an even bigger way to be unstrategic:
  2. Banning social media sites altogether. This is perhaps an even more egregious error. Some entities, terrified of such potential PR problems and/or the headache of having to actually draft a usage policy, just prohibit it all! What a mistake; 300 million are on Facebook and it’s growing every day. A blanket ban on usage of such sites at work fails to take into account how such sites could actually enrich your employees’ professional lives and enhance your company or university image. To blatantly ignore that kind of marketing potential and customer outreach (whether your customers are clients, students, donors, or whatever) is short-sighted.

But entities do it all the time anyway. Case in point: I recently saw a cool job opening posted at a company (which shall remain unnamed) where a friend of mine works. I read it with great interest, since it was an opening for one of those new professional tweeter jobs that’s becoming more and more common these days. Basically, the posting said that the company wanted to begin leveraging social media tools to expand its audiences, creating a new position in the marketing department, dedicated just to focusing on social media outreach. What a cool idea!

However — and this is the kicker — my friend who works there also mentioned offhand to me recently that she didn’t know about something I’d posted online because her employer blocks Facebook and Twitter so they can’t access them at work!

Nice. Someone wanna tell me how the person they hire for this fantastic new position is supposed to “leverage the power of social media and increase the company’s visibility using these new technologies,” when these websites are blocked?? Talk about mixed messages…

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