In less than a decade, social media have taken over the world. By the end of last year, Twitter's 500 million registered users sent more than 340 million tweets a day, Facebook's number of active users topped 1 billion and Tumblr hosted nearly 300 million monthly unique visitors. And newer platforms are gaining traction every day.
Some of the early business adopters of social media saw the potential to transform how they engaged with customers, employees and other stakeholders. They recognized that a brave new world where the personal, professional and commercial combine seamlessly--and in the blink of an eye--could bring significant business benefits.
As more companies adopt social media, the need to manage the risks of these channels, in addition to the opportunities, remains a priority. Doing so effectively should involve partnerships and collaboration with risk managers and insurance providers. A smart checklist to address social media risks should include an assessment of social media activities, identification of key personnel responsible for the strategy, a simple set of guidelines, clear presentation of the risks in social media participation and agreements for employees to sign annually.
Big business benefits--and risks
Traditional media outlets broadcast information for public consumption, providing a one-way experience. In contrast, a two-way interactive experience is offered through social media. Consumers of social media, unlike consumers of traditional media, can interact instantly and directly with either the originators or the authors of the proffered information. Consumers can interact with each other as well. The interaction and cross-communication that social media enables are precisely what make social media so dynamic.
Social networking sites encourage businesses to change their traditional marketing strategies and focus on talking with--not at--prospects and clients, with the goal of developing and deepening the relationship between the company and customer. When prospects grow to know, like and trust a company by interacting with their representatives on social networking sites, they are more likely to do business with that company.
Indeed, social networking conversations create a level of immediacy and a kind of public intimacy that is impossible with traditional marketing.
But there is something else that social networking sites offer a business that no other form of public interface does: the ability to monitor public perception of its brand, products and services in real time. As a result, companies also have the opportunity as well as the responsibility to provide a quick and effective response if a negative perception goes viral through social media's worldwide interconnected platforms.
There are multiple strategies companies can use with social networking sites. Companies can employ a variety of social networking platforms in order to accomplish a handful of business-supporting aims. For example, one company may use Twitter as a medium to get news in front of reporters, LinkedIn to post scholarly articles to share with each other and their customers, and its Facebook page to focus on the company's social responsibility efforts. While this strategy may work for one organization, others may decide to focus on other social media sites or use the same sites for entirely different purposes.
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