Social media. It’s different and unique. We’ve never seen anything like it. We’re fascinated by it, yet we’re not sure how it can help most businesses, especially ours. A totally new, modern paradigm, right? Maybe not.
In the mid-1990s, nearly every business leader had some degree of fascination with the “Worldwide Web.” They suspected it was important to have a “page” on the “Information Superhighway.” But for what? Well, most weren’t sure, but everyone was doing it and the Internet seemed to have mysterious potential, so everyone jumped in. Thousands and sometimes millions of dollars were spent, often times with very little ROI or alignment to business goals. And some got burned. Yet we learned and the Web proved to be an integral part of the way we do business.
Fast forward to today. For many, the feeling about social media is similar. A vague, uneasy, queasy feeling. “Social media might be good,” you say, “but what if it’s too early for my business to embrace it?” Or “What, if anything, can it do for a business like mine?” Or “I want to do something with social media, but I don’t want to look stupid or waste money!”
It’s a brave new world, so it’s understandable that the business benefits from social media might seem nebulous. Sure, consumer goods companies and entertainment entities have been embracing social media for several years, but the rest of the B2B and B2C herds are still trying to figure out how to use it, and many are even avoiding it altogether. Sure, you might have personal accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Pinterest, and you might even use blogs or mixed content strategies at work, but that doesn’t translate into having a clue about how social media can work for your business, right?
Of course, you might delay or hide, but you know social media, like the Internet, is not going away. In fact, depending on your business goals it might already be a necessity for your business—regardless of what your business is or whether it’s B2B or B2C—in the same way the Internet became a necessity in the late 1990s. Don’t believe it? According to an industry survey done in early 2012, 93 percent of B2B companies and over 95 percent of B2C companies use social media to market their businesses. Moreover, over 56 percent of B2B marketers and 45 percent of B2C marketers acquired new business partnerships via social media.
While the methods and tools might vary depending on your business, you should at the very least be seriously considering how social media can be an effective part of your strategy. Here are a few tips to help you get up to speed and make your social media efforts successful:
• Social media will be an evolution for you, but you should already be using it. Social media itself is evolving daily. It will also be an evolutionary tool for your business, just as the Internet was “back in the day.” That said, it is imperative you take it seriously now, else you’ll be well behind your competitors who are already learning and growing with it. And they are learning and growing with it, right now!
• Social media will be a continuum for you. Perhaps you are already using Facebook and Twitter as simple announcement forums to post press releases, product or event announcements, or even job openings? Not good enough. Social media is not a PR megaphone—it is first and foremost a listening post! Even if you are savvy enough to post questions in an attempt to elicit a response—“Hey, what do you think of our new product?” —your audience smells when they are being told rather than being asked. You’ll see that in the few responses you get. Once customers are doing the talking, then you should evolve that into using strategy. Strategy then leads to the ultimate goal: client and community engagement. Depending where you are on the listening/strategy/engagement continuum, you will have different social media needs.
• It’s not about the number of followers you have. The number of followers you have is merely an outcome of your efforts. What you’re ultimately looking for is highly-engaged customers who actively embrace your social media efforts, help you improve your business, and increase the bottom line, so quality trumps quantity. Social media allows you to engage with your customers at moments when they’re not normally thinking about you. Moreover, the viral nature of social media is the equivalent to an old-school concept every businessperson understands: referrals. Each time a visitor shares your Facebook post, re-tweets a link you posted on Twitter, or re-pins an infographic you posted to a Pinterest board, they are creating new relationships for you.
• Your social media messaging needs to align and integrate with your other brand messaging. A business-to-business software company I know, one whose audience is mostly male and over 40, recently posted a link to a positive quarterly earnings announcement. Innocuous enough, except below it they also posted a meme, a picture of a puppy with the caption “Who’s awesome?!” Not so good. Social media can indeed provide a unique way to humanize and personalize your brand, and can give it a softer, friendlier tone. But any humanization must be in sync with your other messaging. Unless you’re targeting a youthful consumer audience, avoid being too cute. In your effort to appear personable and likeable, you erode respect for your business and credibility for your brand.
• Don’t believe the smoke and mirrors. There are many firms that claim to be social media experts. Because the genre is evolving so quickly, few are. They are just trying to capitalize on a new service that businesspeople are only now embracing. Find a communications firm that talks first about your business, then about the methods to reach your goals. The firm should talk about aligning your social media efforts to your business goals and desired results. If a firm uses daunting language you don’t understand, they are not the right firm for you. You don’t need a specialty firm or Madison Avenue agency that tries to dazzle you with social media gobbledygook and expertise—you need one that takes a “business-first” approach to your marketing. Social media is a marketing tool, and it needs to work well with all the other tools in your toolbox. Use a firm that understands your overall communications needs and has experience integrating social media as part of your larger goals.
Social media for use in everyday marketing communications is still new and evolving, but it needn’t be scary, and you needn’t have perfect knowledge to use it effectively today. Just make certain to focus on your business goals, define the long-term business results you’re looking for—Building brand or product awareness? Stronger lead generation? Better prospect conversion rate? Being seen as a thought leader?—and use people who are holistically focused on your business and brand rather than just the social part of social media. Because as the Internet era taught us, it’s all about the business.
- By Dar Hackbarth
Dar Hackbarth is an innovative thought leader with high-level strategic successes in marketing, digital media, branding, PR, social media, and creative development. In various management and consulting roles across more than 20 industries, he has worked with or for some of the world’s leading names. Among his diverse achievements, Dar co-founded a successful graphics and Web development company, has been a driver behind several well-known marketing innovations, and has received more than two dozen creative awards. He serves as Vice President, Strategy, for The Point Group, a full-service marketing communications firm.
As global talent assessment experts, HRS has spent many years researching success of video technology use in screening. We’ve reviewed dozens of platforms and learned from thousands of employers. Recently, with the continued emergence of videoconferencing use in business, video skills gain importance. However, screening platforms are still showing flaws.
The first major flaw lies in the difference between skills just being on camera as opposed to actually “addressing” the camera. These two skills have little or no correlation between them. Addressing a known audience can be far more comfortable than addressing an unknown (camera) and vice versa. Even the company’s sales reps appear “frozen” and ill at ease in certain platform demos. Videoconferencing typically allows the visibility of and interaction with an audience, a different dynamic altogether. As a regular speaker, I find it infinitely easier to “come alive” with dynamics when I have an engaged and participative audience. A flat, unresponsive audience is a challenge, and often a burden, to an educator. Entertainers sometimes enjoy that challenge, yet entertainers and educators are two different characters. Consider the actual video skills requirements of the job, and align the screening dynamic with the job’s parameters.
The second major flaw lies in the platform’s validation. Some platforms align with the proven concept that the best interviewers often are those who have the most practice. Sales and substance are two different concepts, and for many, these are sadly mutually exclusive. We researched several platforms which have specifically positioned themselves to major market employers whose keys to success lie in turnover versus employee retention. Not all organizations are talent based. In fact, many large organizations rely upon “plug and play” capabilities which create sustainability without reliance upon specific talent. The important takeaway here is to find a platform which aligns with your corporate goals for talent lifecycle. You may adopt more than one platform if you do not find an integrated solution.
The third major flaw is legal compliance. While the federal and state governments are mandating appropriate timing to potentially discriminatory data collection, inappropriately deployed video screening can heighten risks of noncompliance. Structure a program consistent, compliant and true to the job description for best protection. These are the same risks discussed in our teachings on social media use in screening.
The fourth major flaw lies in BFOQ test of reason. Unless a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) is prominent, the screening technique is at risk. If video skills are not necessary to the job description, do not consider video skills in the screening. How people present in person, in writing, via telephone and via camera are all unique characteristics independent of one another.
HRS has pioneered telework principles and use of global technology for decades. We understand the benefits and the risks. Many technology options are available, appropriate to individual job requirements. Video may or may not be the solution, and please adopt the platform which truly represents your best interests. We use video technology often… but selectively according to the actual job requirements and career path lifecycle. Detailed research is available from HRS.
Some attorneys will advise employers to avoid using social media as a recruitment and screening tool. The caution is wise; however, avoidance may be impractical, and the proper use of social media can most definitely pay off. In many cases, we consider it actually necessary. While risks of unlawful use exist and need be avoided, bona fide occupational qualifications can be investigated through proper methodology. The following 3 rules are set forth to simplify legal compliance.
1) Timing is everything. The EEOC is often more concerned about the timing and outcomes of collecting data than the collection of data itself. That is, we know certain visual characteristics when we interview or videoconference a candidate, yet premature collection and use of this data is considered unlawful “profiling.” The investigation of social media after interview is typically safer than prior to interview. A company that shows reasonable care and great diversity in demographics and advancement provides substantially stronger affirmative defense than a company with insufficient diversity and/or without reasonable care compliance. Protected characteristics are found not only in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but also in the legal changes and state regulations emerging ongoing.
2) Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQs) are still considered a lawful job requirement subject to reasonable investigation. How a candidate presents his/herself to the general public and company stakeholders is a legitimate public relations and credibility concern. While off duty behavior may or may not be appropriate to monitor and discover as a BFOQ, how a candidate chooses to be known on the Internet as searchable by customers, co-workers, competitors, associates, vendors, investors and other stakeholders, is certainly a BFOQ. Such a presence affects on duty performance, especially when easily detected by search engine or links to professional or company presence. A great job description and strong company policies will validate social media investigations.
3) Outsource investigation and/or control consistency and chain of information. HRS policy establishment, training and candidate investigation services are currently booming. While we are biased that no competitor meets our standards, please know resources abound for outsourcing implementation or procedural design as risk management. If choosing to insource the effort, control documentation and custody of information. Appropriate policies and disclosures should be considered. One size does not fit all here. Social media usage and monitoring policies should match the company’s unique practices. And, although the candidate may choose the “world wide web” to air private and personal information, the employer must remember to not further the information distribution except on a “need to know” basis. Use of search engines to collect data is recommended. The method of collecting data should align with reasonable access to information by company stakeholders.
The appropriate use of social media in hiring provides cost-effective recruitment, often with cost savings or targeted candidate access impractical to ignore. However, the very nature of recruitment via social media could grant us access to candidate social media profiles too soon. To use only social media for recruitment, in certain cases, may in itself be considered discriminatory. Audience demographics should be considered to both control costs and to also ensure abidance with Affirmative Action Plans where they exist.
It is difficult to investigate certain social media sites, especially those of a personal rather than professional focus, without receiving information regarding age, race, nationality, military, family status, sexual orientation, religion, or some combination of the many, many lawfully protected characteristics. Pictures, comments, links, interests and profile page data cannot be reasonably avoided. To better manage risks, we suggest directing the candidate to the company’s own application system rather than linking the recruitment response with the candidate’s social media profile. Such a step allows the company to broadcast the recruitment via social media but to collect responses through traditional methods discouraging profiling.
Upon reaching the correct stage and method of data collection, be certain to avoid risk of error and falsehood. Identities can be confused, and inaccurate information may be collected. Be certain you have the correct individual, and be certain the information is true. Background check permission forms should collect necessary data to validate identity. HRS recommends and designs a sequential plan of using social media investigations lawfully, consistently, with proper timing and privacy controls toward the appropriate evaluation of BFOQs. As an added safeguard, it is popularly recommended to involve an outside firm or an individual not participating in the employment decisions. That individual or firm should then be in position to report only on job requirements and BFOQs, thereby inherently controlling the distribution and use of data.
For most, social media is no more complex than any social or communications event. Many find it easier. All rules of kindness, diplomacy, message, audience and delivery apply. Used properly, social media can teach, make you laugh, improve social skills, reconnect with long lost friends, find a job, grow a business, explore new cultures, build relationships, enhance wellness, save time and save money. It is not only a “real life” but can also enrich your life and enhance productivity. As with everything in this world, not everyone “gets it.” It is a complete myth that you don’t have time for social media. Used well, social media creates more time in your busy day. Used improperly, the same facets to life can be adversely impacted.
We recently addressed this topic at Loyola University, and it has become popular at our own newly emerging facebook page. The following guidelines are offered to ensure getting the best outcomes from the social media experience. These are relevant to both users and to employer training in proper etiquette.
5 Rules to Getting the Best Out of Social Media…
Rule #1 – Be discrete and filter your comments. Remember it is the world wide web, and privacy controls are not 100% effective.
Rule #2 – Learn and use the privacy controls. They help substantially. Understand privacy limitations and the licensing you authorize by using a certain site. It’s very easy to protect your privacy but only if you invest the 5-10 minutes necessary to research and apply knowledge.
Rule #3 – Research the topics, guidelines, options and expectations to a certain site before you participate. These are available at each site and differ from one site to the next. Knowing helps you select the right forum and keeps your experience on track.
Rule #4 – Understand that each social media site or application is a business in itself, creating jobs with need for compensation and need for sustainability, job security and hopefully job growth. It is easy to anticipate what will happen next if you understand the objectives.
Rule #5 - Apply the “golden rule” at all times. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Kindness and courtesy are expected. Respect others’ privacy. Stick to the site’s guidelines and respect how others’ use the site if within guidelines. Avoid or be careful with controversial subjects including but not limited to politics, religion and sexual innuendo.
Do Not Insult or Attack
When you befriend or connect with someone, you imply a social contract of mutual respect and courtesy. Negative energy is now out of bounds. Insulting and attacking your friends in social media not only results in the insult/attack itself, but it catches them with guard down and in a highly public forum. Re-read your comments to ensure they are not misinterpreted. Trust shall be difficult if not impossible to recover. Delete, recant or apologize if something gets by that you regret or did not intend. Understand that de-friending can be an insult. Should you de-friend someone due to corporate policy, tell them why to avoid insult.
Control Privacy for Yourself and Others
Remind yourself constantly that it is the Internet, as we all forget from time to time in the comfort of it all. If you don’t want everyone to know, don’t post it. Without full use of privacy controls, social media posts are likely to land at or around the #1 ranked page for you or others on the Internet. Search engines can then link to employer, family, schools, charitable causes, other people and organizations. Guide yourself accordingly. Privacy controls are extremely but not entirely effective. Every individual has a right to privacy… controlling the perspective of his or her employer, family, neighbor, banker, pastor and any other stakeholder who can form a bias or purport action based upon social media.
You are legally responsible for any damages incurred by others due to your actions… on line, in person and through any form of media. Without specific permission, any information, name reference or pictures/videos of others are both illegal and unethical. This concept is by no means limited to social media… but social media can have immediate widespread distribution. While a site will protect itself through disclaimer, you are still responsible and can be sued for damages when tagging or posting photos, videos or content. Create notifiers or prohibit altogether others’ ability to post/tag photos of you.
Don’t be intimidated by these potential problems, but don’t take unnecessary risk either. We don’t stop crossing the street because there is traffic, but we learn to look both ways beforehand and we learn to not push others into a vehicle’s path.
Observe Topic Boundaries and Avoid Frequent Complaint
While you cannot create change without stirring the pot at least a little, constant complaining and negativity will hurt your relationships and ability to succeed with audience and credibility. Additionally, respect how others use the social media site. Embrace differences. Keep politics, religion, negativity and all controversy off of sites not specifically targeting to those topics. Keep business on business sites, personal on personal sites; stick to specific topics and/or causes in their respective forums. Avoid crossing boundaries. Universal charitable causes are typically welcome in any general forum … just don’t wear out their welcome.
Follow the Money for Answers
Nothing in this world is completely “free,” and this is no exception. Each of these sites is costly to develop and operate. Advertisers, membership fees and specific application/gaming fees are popular revenue sources. Ownership of content, development, features control and level of advertising is dictated, of course, by the sponsors of these platforms. Arguments are emerging regarding free vs. paid membership. You may wish to entirely avoid sites pretending to be entirely free, as you are likely to expose yourself to spammers, malware and/or sale of your personal info. We’d rather know who is getting paid while safeguarding our systems and privacy.
Choosing a Social Media Forum
The primary consideration to site choice is the intended use. The first choice is “business” or “personal.” It is easiest and safest to draw a line between the two, although great advantage can be realized by those who learn to successfully mix the two. It is essential to know and adhere to topic boundaries at each site. Blindsiding others with topics they don’t want will create failure. With appropriate judgment deployed, random and creative banter can be the most interesting, desirable and memorable content you deliver. A little consideration goes a long way.
We use each of the following for different reasons, audience and with different approach/expectations. The writers herein have no affiliation with any social media site or vendor. While this white paper is complimentary, our business interest is ongoing education and consultation with companies. One of many hot topics right now surrounds social media. Our firm encourages employers to address social media, creating policies and encouraging practices which protect everyone’s interest, company-wide.
Originally targeted to college students, then high school students, facebook is intended to reconnect or maintain connections otherwise difficult to manage in a busy world. No longer strictly by invitation, features have been changed, removed and added over time. Not originally part of the fabric, businesses are now present, primarily as advertisers to consumers. This site is used for personal relationship building, socialization, reconnecting, reciprocity, a sense of community and meeting new people through gaming, common interest and mutual friends. Age range is unlimited and multi-generational. Social sites such as facebook can provide a forum for busy productive people to enjoy positive energy, wellness and socialization without abandoning a productive life. As with everything, abuse is of course alive and well.
Used entirely with a professional business focus, LinkedIn also began building by invitation only. LinkedIn is designed for business promotion, professional networking, job search, discussion forum and to use business “connections” as a toolset. Specific connections are visible or invisible to others as a matter of individual strategy and privacy setting. Currently both paid and unpaid memberships exist. The extent to which you post on LinkedIn is directly proportionate and related to your professional position. Additionally offering opportunity to showcase company websites, blogs, publications and twitter accounts, LinkedIn currently holds more than 60 million registered users in more than 200 countries.
Used for both personal and business purposes, Twitter ignores relationship building and succeeds or fails based entirely on the quality and keywords of information. “Tweets” are text-based posts of up to 140 characters delivered to “followers.” Account holders can “lock” their timeline for privacy to only followers with some but not entire privacy. Without such lock, a “tweet” can immediately find itself the #1 ranked item by search engine for the author. Re-tweet exposure can be substantial. Twitter offers both facebook and LinkedIn interfaces.
Blogs (Weblogs), Discussion Boards, Forums and More
Endless and constantly emerging/disappearing, the Internet is full of opportunity to comment, blog, post, vote, upload and express yourself. Each individual site is likely to offer description of topic, questions controlled by the site or existing discussion threads to follow. Choose accordingly and stick to the format for the site. Each will likely offer legal disclaimer and instructions. Read them and comply.
What You Should Post/Not Post
Ask 10 people and you shall receive 10 different answers. This is a draw for most social media users and an advantage to the concept. The differences between the posts of one and another users is a matter of among others… personality and timing. Witty banter that insults no one is always welcome. Do not expect to interest everyone with a post and do not expect to be interested with every post you see. Attempt to avoid repetition. What would you say at a party? Who is your audience? Same considerations apply. Be yourself at your best whenever you can. Sites will typically provide discussion forums, content, games and/or applications that are good points of exchange. Most social media is not about the conversation but rather a more brief exchange of ideas. Chime in only as you wish. Sound judgment will help you. If people are interested, they will typically let you know. If not, find something else to say or a new room/time to say it.
Boundaries: Business vs. Personal
Actively mixing business and personal relationships is always a risk and warrants consideration and boundaries. Social media is no exception. The ability to successfully mix the two, however, can be your greatest advantage. What if your boss, client or investor befriends you on a social site? This problem is largely solved by rule #1. If you are concerned about its visibility, do not post it on the world wide web. While it is extremely beneficial to use privacy controls and selection rules, again these are not entirely effective.
Preparing for and Handling Abuse or Disagreement
The rules for social media are the same as for any communication, in person, written, electronic, or telephone. One great thing about social media is that you can more easily avoid, delay or rehearse your response. Use these opportunities to ensure your message is exactly how you want it before it is out there. When you build quality relationships through social media, you have also likely improved or practiced certain aspects to in-person social skills as well. Be nice, don’t attack or insult. On the Internet as in all phases of life, communicate with the assumption there are no bad people, just bad acts. Social media should not be anti-social. It will work best for you if you stick with positive energy. Be careful approaching controversy. It is controversial because people disagree passionately. You will undoubtedly insult and aggravate at least some of your friends… so be prepared for the fallout. People disagree on how to “keep it light” and as always, “teasing” and thoughtless communications are inconsequential to some, the “end of the world” for others, and somewhere in between for everyone else. Controversial communication creates conflict including disagreement on severity, how to interpret and how to handle. Be nice and remove the point of conflict.
Social Gaming Etiquette
Gamers provide a great deal of revenue to social sites, and their contributions to subsidizing everyone’s use should be respected. At current time, facebook gaming posts are extremely easy to hide if you do not wish to see them. A simple hover and click on the hide button (currently immediately to the right of the post) will hide every post to an entire application. Therefore, etiquette between gamers is more essential for discussion.
Gamers - please consider that your gaming friends have little or no opportunity to hide your individual posts without hiding you or the game altogether. Peppering the feed with low value posts impedes another’s ability to find the posts actually necessary to gameplay. Additionally, monopolizing the feed with items of little or no value/interest to others creates the same social impact as monopolizing a conversation. Often, less is more… and quality here typically outweighs quantity.
Game developers – remove the temptation to destroy gaming experience by removing the options to do so. Consider controls on frequency and volume of such posts per user. We know you need to promote your game, but you probably wish to keep gamers playing, too, right?
Social Applications, Groups, Polls and Gifts
These items can be great “ice breakers” and turnkey socialization tools. With these items you can reach out to someone without other consideration as to what to say. What users rarely consider is the extent to which profile information is accessed and shared with undisclosed recipients. Consideration should also be given to system performance when these applications are allowed, as they may be running in the background while not visibly in use. It is typically quite easy to de-authorize these applications when no longer desired. It is important to read the disclaimers before using these applications, and it is important to courteously understand why someone may not accept your gift or invitation. This decline is not an indictment of friendship gesture but rather a de-selection of the system performance impact invited by the application. Choose applications carefully, enjoy those you choose, respect others’ rights to choose for themselves, and remember… nothing is free.
Please visit AskHRS.com or contact HRS for employer tips in creating social media policies to include anti-harassment and intellectual property risk management.