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Making Way for Social Media, Business First, September 6, 2013

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Authored by Amy D. Cubbage

Business First, September 6, 2013

Social media can be intimidating for business professionals, according to Amy Cubbage, of counsel, with McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC.

"One thing is for sure, though: we have reached the point of no return. Businesses must not only embrace social media, but invest in it or be left behind," said Cubbage, who focuses much of her law practice on technology-related areas, including social media.

Business First asked her for tips on how businesses can best navigate the social media spectrum. Her email responses appear below.

How do you engage in social media in both your professional and personal life?

Social media plays a role in both. Professionally I use LinkedIn to connect with colleagues. I write for our firm's employment blog and encourage clients, and prospective clients, to follow the blog. I have a personal Twitter and Facebook account. I will retweet links to my blog posts on my Twitter account or send out an occasional law-related tweet. Personal and professional social media can co-exist as long as users are smart about it. There is a line for things that are discussed on social media, just as there was a line for things that were discussed at the proverbial water cooler years ago. For me, that line is not posting anything that I would be embarrassed for my employer or clients to see-anything that could provide a negative impression. That line may be different for different people, depending on the profession.

What type of tracking systems can businesses use to know if their social media is working?

There are lots of programs that can track social media stats - how many visitors there are to the website, clicks on a Twitter post, etc. For starters, check out HootSuite or HubSpot.

Make employees ask how customers or clients heard about the business. At my firm, when a new client comes in, we have to specify through our billing system how the client chose us - was it by referral or was it because they saw one of our attorneys on LinkedIn? Review this information regularly to check the return on your social media investment. One of the most effective ways to know if it is working is to find out if your customers or clients know about it. And, of course, if they don't, take the opportunity to educate them.

If you are not getting a return, then reevaluate your efforts. Are you posting enough content? Is it interesting? Is management supportive of the initiative? Results cannot be achieved overnight and it may take several attempts to get it right. Have a strategy and be patient.

Can a business ever go overboard with social media?

Social media never stops. It's 24/7 and there are so many outlets. It is hard to go overboard. But, I always caution about using social media at the appropriate times. Remember that most social media sites publicly postmark the date and time of when entries are made. If you are in an important meeting with a client and then that client later sees that you were sending out tweets instead of giving them your full attention, well, that's a bad thing.

On the other hand, be careful about pre-scheduling tweets or Facebook posts through applications like HootSuite. Pre-scheduling posts can be a great way to leverage your time and spread out your posts during a day. However, when a tragedy hits, like the Boston Marathon bombings, you don't want seemingly insensitive pre-scheduled posts to go out. Preschedule, but be aware of what's happening and turn off auto-posts if necessary.

Finally, do not neglect more traditional media methods. Seeing your business's name in print is still important. You cannot fall off the real-world grid.

Do you recommend businesses using videos? They seem to be popular these days.

Yes! Embrace video! Videos are a great way to send a concise message to a particular audience. My firm uses short video clips on our website to explain our practice areas. Putting a face and voice with a name makes social media more authentic; it eliminates anonymity. With Vine and Instagram videos, the public is ready to take social media beyond writing and still pictures. Need suggestions getting started? Use video to:

1) Bring testimonials to life

2) Shoot a product demonstration

3) Announce upcoming offers or events

A few years ago, YouTube was the wild west of social media, but today more and more businesses are creating a branded YouTube channel. By using YouTube, your business's online search engine optimization is increased.

A big concern many have with social media is that public comments or posts can appear on a business's page without permission. How would you address this concern?

This is a valid concern. Most sites allow a way for users to limit or block the content that is associated with their account. For instance, on Facebook you can disable wall posts for a business's page so that only the user can make posts. With blog settings, you can require that posts or comments be approved before they appear.

If you allow your social media pages to be interactive, then monitoring is key. Make sure you know what is being said and, in the event it is something negative, have a policy for dealing with it quickly and professionally. If something truly offensive does appear on a page, contact the site administrator and ask that it be removed or seek legal counsel.

However, there are benefits to publishing and responding to comments. Doing so increases your business's transparency and shows that you are in-tune with your audience's questions or concerns. A positive post can do a lot for your business.

Can employers ban employees from talking about the business in a negative way on social media? That seems like the easiest social media policy.

A policy like that would seem like the easiest way to stop employees negatively talking about a business, but, legally, those policies are not permissible. Government employees' social media speech is protected by the First Amendment. Private employees are protected by state laws and the National Labor Relations Act. An effective, enforceable policy can be hard to create. Even national companies like Costco have been told to rewrite their policies by the National Labor Relations Board. If you are unsure about how to draft a policy, contact an attorney. A bad policy is worse than no policy at all.

Is it acceptable for employers to monitor employees' social media accounts?

Employers can monitor social media activity while the employee is at work, at least to make sure an employee is working. Monitoring off-the-job activity is more complicated. If you can view an employee's account, then you can check the posted content. Under no circumstances should you ask employees for social media passwords. If you are checking an employee's social media, then there is the issue of whether you are singling out that employee, which can lead to a discrimination claim. It is hard for an employer to even know what outlets an employee may be using. It's even harder to find the time to adequately monitor all of your employees' social media use. Monitoring must be strategic.

In some instances, an employer can discipline employees for inappropriate statements on personal social media pages. But, what if an employee is acting as though they are speaking for the business? Does an employer have any control over this?

Generally, users cannot post anything in the employer's name or in a manner that could lawfully be attributed to the employer without prior authorization. An employee may be able to use a company photograph, logo, slogan or the like, but doing so in a harmful manner may be grounds for defamation, if the employee is not engaged in protected speech.

What's your #1 tip to business owners using social media?

There's no need to be afraid of social media, but you do have to commit time and resources to social media to use it successfully. Fully commit. Social media is here to stay. If you are not on the bandwagon, you are getting left behind. If your business has joined social media, then make sure you are investing your time and efforts to make it worthwhile. A stagnant Facebook page is just as beneficial as a no-show employee. It is time to take it to the next level.

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