These days almost everyone is trying to convince you that your small business needs to be on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media sites. You hear promises of enormous upside potential and connecting with new customers all over the world. But what aren’t they telling you? For every small-business success story, how many nightmares are there of social media gone awry?
Used properly, social media can help you sell more products and services, conduct market research and competitive analysis, build your brand and be positioned as an industry expert. Used improperly, social media can cost your business money, damage your brand and reputation and even put you out of business.
How can you avoid improperly using social media for your business? Below are four examples of the negative aspects of social media along with recommendations on how you can steer clear of them on your path to success.
1) Facebook: The world’s largest landlord
The Cool Hunter (www.thecoolhunter.net) is a culture and design site on all things creative. By its definition, the site is “a truly global hub for what's cool, thoughtful, innovative, and original.” The company has successfully mastered social media to drive millions of visitors to its site every month.
In August 2012, The Cool Hunter boasted having 788,000 fans on Facebook alone. That was before Facebook shut down its page for copyright infringement. According to Facebook's terms of service, users cannot "post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law."
Even though the company denied the allegations, in an instant, The Cool Hunter lost all its fans and content. In a recent search on Facebook for The Cool Hunter, the company apparently decided to rebuild its page from scratch a few months after the incident. To date, they have just over 23,000 Likes on their page.
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2) Q: When is a picture worth $1,000?
A: When you use it online without paying for it. Photos on the Internet aren’t necessarily free. In addition to Facebook’s terms of service regarding copyright infringement, stock photography companies such as Getty Images regularly check to see the source of photographs being used in blog posts and on websites. They’ve sent letters, along with fines, to companies illegally using their photographs. One suggestion: Don’t claim ignorance as an excuse if you get a letter. Instead, read Steve Guillen’s article on what you need to know about using third-party photos before you go picture hunting online.
3) My Twitter account has been hacked!
In December 2011, my Twitter account was hacked. I made a terrible mistake of not paying attention while responding to an email that asked for my Twitter password. I immediately realized my error and tried to change my password, but it was too late. The hacker moved too quickly in changing my password and went about reconstructing my account to make it his own. Over three years of my work and 100,000 followers were gone in an instant.
I reached out to Twitter support, which told me to fill out a form and open a complaint. While I did that, I also went to another one of my Twitter accounts and sent direct messages (DMs) to my hacked account. Surprisingly, the hacker responded to me. I spent the next two hours talking to a 15-year-old from Connecticut who wanted a Twitter account with 100,000 followers to promote songs he wrote. After pleading, cajoling and a little bit of parenting, he gave me my account back.
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4) My employee said what?
If your company has employees, it’s imperative to monitor what they say and do online if they represent your brand or align themselves with your company. Not surprisingly, some employees don’t always think before they tweet and post.
During the last presidential election, an employee of a large company posted an offensive comment about President Obama’s grandmother using his company’s Twitter account instead of his own. A company executive saw the tweet and immediately followed up with an apology that took several tweets to deliver. The damage was done, but it was significantly reduced by the quick response and followup. Other business owners haven’t been as fortunate. The Internet is littered with tweets and posts from employees who should have thought twice before hitting the send button.
Avoiding the headaches:
Here are four action steps you can take today to steer clear of some of the potholes and pitfalls associated with social media:
- In the world of social media, we are guests in the homes of Facebook and the other sites. If we don’t play by their rules, they can shut us down. Learn the rules and back up any information you have that you may need in the event you can no longer access it.
- Let customers and followers know alternative ways they can reach you should your page or account be compromised.
- Don’t give anyone the passwords to your social media accounts. Also, don’t use the same password for all your accounts. Limit the downside risk in the event one of your accounts gets hacked by having different passwords for each account. Use uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
- Have someone on your team monitor the company’s daily online activity. Practice your responses to certain situations so your team is prepared if/when calamity strikes.
The examples used here are only a few of the downside risks of using social media. However, don’t use them as a reason to opt out of the discussions taking place online. Instead, enter with your eyes wide open. Regularly stress test your social media plan and make a commitment of time and resources to maximize your ROI while mitigating your risk.
As the founder and CEO of Brian Moran & Associates, Brian is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs to run better businesses. Brian is leveraging his 20+ years of experience in publishing magazines for business owners to assist entrepreneurs with everything from social media to accessing growth capital to expanding into the global marketplace.
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