Q. You are considering whether to start a social networking effort on behalf of your company. Can that kind of exposure be beneficial?
A. In many cases, it can be. As an employee, you are an extension of your company and can enhance its brand by connecting with current and potential customers on sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as through blogs.
Social media can be a powerful tool for listening to customers and building a reputation for responsive service, says David Nour, chief executive of the Nour Group, a business development consultancy in Atlanta, and author of “Relationship Economics.” “You get real-time feedback and can engage with customers quickly to answer questions or help them solve problems.”
If your company is about to release a new product or service, for example, social media can spread the word and increase your reach exponentially, he says.
Q. Does that mean it’s O.K. to start tweeting and blogging immediately?
A. No. If you are going to speak publicly on behalf of your company, you first need to discuss it with your boss. Many companies don’t have formal social media policies yet, so talk to human resources or the legal department about what you plan to do, says Douglas Karr, founder of the digital marketing firm DK New Media in Indianapolis and author of “Corporate Blogging for Dummies.”
You may not receive management’s support — and perhaps rightly so, because not every company should use social media, Mr. Karr says. “Some companies don’t have a culture that fits with it, like financial or law firms. There might be too many legal ramifications.”
If you start using social media for customer service, you run the risk that your company will not be able to respond quickly to complaints or problems.
Try making a business case for your plan by outlining your goals and how they align with the company’s, says Josh Bernoff, a senior vice president at Forrester Research and co-author of “Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business.”
Q. What are some ways to use social media effectively?
A. Be specific about your objective — for example, to have customers make one more purchase each year — says Adam Metz, who works from San Francisco as director of social business for the Pedowitz Group, a marketing firm, and wrote “The Social Customer,” to be published in July.
Work with the marketing department on a strategy to achieve your goal and a way to track the results of your campaign, Mr. Karr says. “Let’s say your company releases a new product and you want to tell people about it,” he says. “The marketing department can give you a link people can use to find out more about the product, and it enables them to track who is responding.”
Although it’s common for companies to use Twitter and Facebook, posting comments to industry blogs is another way to enhance your business’s reputation. “Follow the leaders in your industry and comment on their blogs” in the appropriate area, Mr. Karr says. “This is a place to add insight and alternative views, not write about your company.”
In fact, Mr. Metz suggests a four-to-one engagement. “Every time you write a post about your company, you should also write a comment on four other people’s blogs in your industry,” he says. “Don’t just pump out content about your company.”
Q. Although your intentions are good, you don’t want the company to get into trouble because of your tweeting and blogging. Are there rules you can follow to avoid that?
A. Never disclose proprietary or confidential information belonging to the company or its clients, says Sara A. Begley, a partner in the employment practice at the law firm Reed Smith in Philadelphia who advises clients about social media use in the workplace. Disparaging your competition publicly by making untrue statements could be seen as an unfair trade practice or defamation, she says. “You could also write something that is viewed as discriminatory, harassing or threatening and be fired for that.”
If you have a question about something you want to post, ask the human resources department. Have it send an e-mail approving your post so you have a written record, she says.
Don’t comment on blogs anonymously. If you are discovered and your identity revealed, you risk an embarrassing response from those who believe that your company is having employees post positive comments on blogs, says Mr. Bernoff of Forrester. Identifying yourself as an employee allows those comments to be evaluated properly.
One common-sense guideline for using social media is to obey the same rules you would with any other communications channel. “In the same way you can’t stand up at a conference and tell everyone what your company’s financial results will be for next quarter,” Mr. Bernoff says, “you also can’t tweet about it.”
Article was originally published in the New York Times