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Best practices for social media and your business


May 1, 2015
By J Lynn Fraser

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Think about the results you want to achieve before jumping into the world of social media.

Well-crafted social media outreach to both a business’ community of customers and its professional community can strengthen its brand while increasing its customer base and loyalty. Establishing best practices guidelines for your business and your employees will maximize social media’s benefits for your company.

Your first best practice for your social media policy has three parallel actions, according to Alan Middleton, executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre. “Phone up major social media suppliers and get a presentation. It’s free. And ask for a briefing on social media,” Middleton advises. Then ask yourself “Are my customers happy with my product, service, website, store?” This question should also be directed to both your end and trade customers.  

Middleton, who teaches marketing at the Schulich School of Business, York University, suggests that you think about what you want to achieve. “Do you want more bought by current customers? If you have the customer range without the frequency, then you need them more and your goal is to change your communications.”

Alternatively, Middleton asks you to reflect on whether you have more potential from new customers. He suggests speaking with your employees and your customers to establish what needs your services and product could supply. “Don’t run to social media,” Middleton advises. “Do your research. Know your customers and your potential customers.”

“Know the culture and how [it] works. Follow who you like and admire [first]. Ask where does your brand truly fit in the conversation and what is the value in the effort,” says Mitch Joel, author and the president of Mirum – a digital marketing agency that operates in nearly 20 countries. Joel advises establishing an editorial calendar that guides your tweets, blog and video postings. He also suggests consulting an editor about what you want to publish.

“Build a plan that leaves time to listen, to create and to share content,” advises Dave Kerpen, author and CEO of New York-based Likeable Local, a social media software firm. “Bakers have beautiful content and it’s a leg up over other small business owners.”

As to who should tweet, blog, or text on behalf of the company, Kerpen notes that while a CEO, employee or a third-party vendor may be involved, it is important that you have “confidence in who is representing the brand.” Crucial, as well, is finding your company’s “voice,” Kerpen says.

Don’t treat your social media activity as something separate from your other activities as a business. “It is an integrated part of your business,” Kerpen adds. You should have a plan to address negative – and positive – comments about your business that appear on social media. In his book Likeable Social Media, Kerpen stresses that when companies address these complaints they show they care about their customers and that they are listening.

Ben Kramer, executive chef of diversity food services at the University of Winnipeg, uses Twitter and Instagram to inform the public about events he is participating in. Kramer has, for example, provided catering to the Truth and Reconciliation gathering in Winnipeg and Winnipeg’s 100-Mile Dinner fundraiser.

“It’s a conversation to interact with fans, guests and other chefs,” Kramer observes. “It creates a culture of online friends. The number of followers you have means you have a broader reach and spreads your impact.”

Successful use of social media for business entails creating community around a product, service, event, or shared values these elements represent. Best practices for creating a community is to build trust first with authentic sharing and storytelling about you, your employees and your business. Communicate the value your business offers. When tweeting, for example, Kramer says, “Be consistent, not on a schedule, but stay active. Be transparent and forthcoming.”

Videos and images help build community and engagement by creating a background “story” for you, your staff and your company. “People eat with their eyes. Present your plate like a work of art. Take a good photo. Use decent lighting and crop it,” Kramer says. “Do it right – it’s the message.” Kramer also advises acknowledging copyright when using the works of others. Familiarizing yourself with the policies of social media providers is also important.

Pause and think before you tweet, post or blog. A strength of social media is its spontaneity. This is also a point of vulnerability for businesses and their employees. Social media policy for a company should be clear as to posts about the company – who, what, when, why and how. It should be clearly stated in postings whether or not the individual is making a statement or post on behalf of the company. Personal social media accounts should be kept separate.

“Recognize that the law applies both online and offline,” observes Dr. Michael Geist, Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law. “Communications that may feel private are still very public. Don’t say anything in a tweet that you would not want to see on the cover of the Globe and Mail. Copyright, defamation and copyright laws apply.” Geist stresses that “the Internet does not forget.”

Toronto-based Seneca College offers an easy to read and understand guide for social media best practices: Social Media Best Practice Guide. Seneca’s guide, written in plain language for students, staff and faculty, provides a good template for a company’s best practices on social media. It poses questions like: “Do you have any concerns that the material you are about to post would be kept on record for as long as the Internet exists?” and “Are you releasing college information that is confidential and has not been approved for public disclosure?”

The guide also reminds users to be both factually and grammatically accurate when they tweet. Users are cautioned that the Copyright Act of Canada applies to social media and provides a clear explanation of what that entails. Another consideration for what is posted on social media includes the laws of the country in which the servers are based that store the posted information. As Seneca’s guide notes, as an example, American federal laws and the Patriot Act apply if the information is stored in the United States. To view Seneca’s guide, visit https://inside.senecacollege.ca/its/security/socialmedia.html.

Social media’s culture places great importance on sharing, authenticity, providing value and community. The various social media platforms available level the playing field in many respects for smaller businesses competing for consumers’ attention. A planned, well-researched and cautious use of social media by a company and its employees will create an engaging and rewarding community. 


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