The Pitfalls of Social Media

Blogging Your company’s CFO, John Smith, has been writing a personal blog for years. It’s a hobby. It’s the way he stays in touch with old college buddies and family members. He talks about his kids, his favorite football team and his job. In fact, just last week he talked about having to present the last quarter’s numbers to his company’s Board of Directors. And, oh, by the way, he was sure they weren’t going to be pleased. He ended his comments with the comment, “Gee, I hope I have a job when the meeting ends” and a light-hearted smiley face.
Harry Green works for a prominent gas supplier. Having been responsible for filling cylinders for 16 months, he hopes to be promoted at some point in the near future.  While surfing the Internet, Harry happens upon an article that discusses training within the gases and welding industry. He quickly sends an email to Devin O’Toole, author of Executive Dialogue, on this magazine’s website. He complained that he was not likely to get promoted anytime soon because his boss was “too cheap” to provide training programs which would further his career. (Editor’s Note: The post was never published.) GAWDA logo
Twitter logo Three people communicated a message that they need information on welders on Twitter this afternoon.
A search in May that was limited to the U.S. for individuals who used the word “welding” in their profile on LinkedIn totaled 77,365 individuals. There are an additional 27,601 individuals who currently have the job title Purchasing Manager and are located in the U.S. LinkedIn logo
Yahoo! logo A valued, long-time employee, Mary was not promoted. She just did not have the qualifications that her co-worker had. That evening while chatting on Yahoo, Mary complained about “Jane Doe” who had just been promoted and received a raise that should have been Mary’s.  To discredit her colleague, she complained about how Jane had…… (fill in the blank with a horrible misdeed, punishable by law).
By simply “liking” the term “welding,” I am now one of a universe of 95,180 individuals who also like welding on Facebook. Facebook logo

There is a legitimate need for Social Media training in our industry. Whether at the very basic, arm-your-employees-with-the-information-they-need-to-stay-out-of-trouble type or the training required to create actual sales that impact your company’s bottom line.

Basic Training
Neither John, Harry nor Mary meant to cause their employer harm. Their errors in judgment were innocent. But they still erred. No one had ever told them what they could do or not do on the Internet. We are all knowledgeable with regards to the dangers associated with the Internet and our children. And good parents everywhere coach their children on what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior.  Yet it would never occur to us to talk with our employees about what they talk about when online.

The number one reason people fail at Social Media is because they have not established a goal or a clear picture of what they want to accomplish online.

It never occurred to John that a discussion of the company’s financials did not belong online. It never occurred to Harry that his comments could fuel a legal proceeding if his company was ever involved in an accident. And Mary never thought that her co-worker would bring legal actions against her after she publicly voiced untrue, malicious gossip about her. By providing John, Harry and Mary with simple guidelines that illustrate your company’s policies, you not only protect your company’s wellbeing but your employee’s.

As an example of what is allowed and what isn’t, your policy may forbid discussion of your company unless specifically authorized. Or your policy may dictate that discussing supervisors and colleagues while online is grounds for immediate dismissal. Certain behaviors may call for a verbal warning. Others may call for some form of sanction that is more serious. Having a policy in place and providing a basic level of training will protect you and the employee, even if your company has no official Social Media presence.

Training for Dollars
A good Social Media program will allow for the training of employees who have reason to utilize Social Media as a part of their jobs. And if someone works in middle or senior management or in some form of sales or customer service, they do have reason to utilize Social Media. The appropriate training program will teach them how to effectively utilize Social Media. It is important that each employee knows how to “stay on message.” They should also know how to respond to customers with one voice. In other words, each will know how to communicate and what to communicate in order to achieve the results that you expect.

Many companies have a penchant for directing all of their online responsibilities to a younger employee who knows how to engage on Social Media. Unfortunately, prior experience on Facebook or Twitter may not mean that the employee is aware of how he should manage a presence on Social Media when it’s all about business. Your business.

Many companies have a penchant for directing all of their online responsibilities to a younger employee who knows how to engage on Social Media. Unfortunately, prior experience on Facebook or Twitter may not mean that the employee is aware of how he should manage a presence on Social Media when it’s all about business. Your business.

When representing a company, the standards that we are held to are different than what the employee may adhere to on their personal accounts. Unfortunately, as a public figure with an online presence representing your company, what is seen as personal can now be viewed as a message associated with your company’s brand. Yes, everyone knows that Bill does not work 24 hours a day. But he has to behave differently—as does anyone who has responsibility for manning your company’s Social Media accounts—when using his personal Social Media account. Eventually the connection will be made between your employee’s business and personal online communications. And if not following business protocols, both your employee and your company can be impacted.

Effective Social Media is all about building relationships. It’s all about the communication of industry expertise and our ability to provide our followers with solutions to the issues that they encounter. It’s about being a resource to our contacts. How different is that from how we traditionally market ourselves?  It’s about connecting our online “friends” with a colleague who can best help. With support, your employees will practice traditional business behaviors as easily when online, as they do offline.

More Pitfalls to Social Media
All of the training in the world will not guarantee a return on the investment we are making in Social Media. The number one reason people fail at Social Media is because they have not established a goal or a clear picture of what they want to accomplish online. When setting a goal we have to think like a business person, utilizing Social Media as a business tool and not as a Social Media person using Social Media tactics and retrofitting those tactics to business ideals. The goals that you select need to reflect the goals of the business beyond the spacey metrics of creating “buzz” and acquiring fans and followers. “Buzz” does not help your company to make payroll and demonstrate profits.

Effective Social Media is all about building relationships. It’s about the communication of industry expertise and our ability to provide our followers with solutions to the issues that they encounter. It’s about being a resource to our contacts.

Establishing a clearly defined goal will help you to define your actions after you have “engaged” followers and after you have “joined the conversation.” It’s not about the “feel good” or high-minded talk about connecting with one another. The point is to build a better relationship with your customer and potential customers. The purpose of being online at a particular website is to go beyond engagement to an actual marriage of some sort.

Know What Success Looks Like
Many of those who have not experienced Social Media success have no idea what it should look like. They established a LinkedIn profile or a Facebook page because everyone said that they should. Would you consider having a company brochure designed without having first identified the message that you want to communicate?  Of course not. It’s just as important to know what you want to communicate on LinkedIn.

During your meetings with employees who participate in Social Media it is important to discuss:

  • Do we want to build Social Media fans and followers?
  • Are we looking to directly impact the company’s sales?
  • Does “buzz” depict success?

Is it important to track the number of offline introductions that result from online conversations?

Avoid the Pitfalls
Social Media is like any other business tool. Personally, I have no knowledge whatsoever of how to use a chain saw. In fact, I would be willing to bet that I could seriously hurt myself if I tried to use one with no help from someone more knowledgeable. At the same time, I believe that if taught the basics, I could very soon become quite adept at using one. If taught the basics, your employees will know what they can and cannot say online. If taught, your customer service, sales and marketing people will communicate more and better with both prospective and existing customers and stay on message while doing so. With a plan in place and specific goals in mind, they will know what success looks like.


Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Judy C. Flanagan Meet the Author
Judy C. Flanagan, publisher of Welding & Gases Today, is president of Data Key Communications and CEO of Social Business Inc., located in Dewitt, New York, and on the Web at www.socialbusinessinc.net.
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