Twitter recently celebrated its tenth birthday – platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn have been around even longer – and many companies have now successfully jumped on the social media bandwagon.

A survey carried out in 2011 found that 81 per cent of SMEs use social media to market their business and to interact with customers, a statistic which demonstrates the significant sea change in the way that companies are viewing these platforms.

However, it’s not uncommon to hear horror stories about the uneasy alliance between businesses and social media.

This begs the question – does social media really make a significant impact on the success of a business? And, if so, how can business leaders harness that success and build on it?


Understanding the medium

One issue that many companies face when tackling social media is that, too often, their posts can stick out like a sore thumb amongst engaged and knowledgeable individual users.

Generally this is a problem with syntax; a fear that imitating the casual language of most social media users might negatively affect their brand image.

In reality, the opposite is true – brand image can be negatively affected because of that caution. Social media posts from brands can often come across as overly formal and lacking in personality.

The trick, as discovered by some of the companies highlighted in this article, seems to be a combination of bubbly cheerfulness and the ability to engage with popular language and current events.

Two ears, one mouth

Strongly related to the point above, this advice comes direct from the world of sales: God gave you two ears and one mouth to enable you to listen twice as much as you speak.

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In social media terms, this means that companies can’t just be on transmit. Sending out a constant stream of content with no attempt at a dialogue is simply not what social media was designed for.

Companies have an opportunity that many of their predecessors would have killed for: an open line of communication leading directly to their customers and clients.

Failing to make use of this ability seems nothing short of criminal.


Making connections

Connecting with clients and customers is important, but social media can also enable your employees to connect with each other.

This might not sound like the best idea, and it’s tempting to think that it might be a distraction. However, in reality it can prompt closer bonds between workers that will ultimately make your teams stronger.

Remote workers and teams using temporary serviced offices, made increasingly popular in the capital due to the demand for London office space, can benefit even more from using social media. Not only can it connect team members but, these remote workers interact with the company online, they can also get a clear sense of the company’s content output and brand image.

Staying on message

One important aspect of online communication is that it’s lightning-fast and, on social media at least, there for all to see.

Much has been written about the benefits of allowing your entire staff to actively engage with your business on social media. They can share content posted by the company, make important business connections, become an invaluable recruitment resource and help promote the brand, all from the comfort of the office.

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All this can work wonders for a company when done correctly, but it doesn’t take too much effort to imagine several ways in which this approach could go wrong. One relatively recent example saw a Chipotle employee get fired for Tweeting a disparaging remark about the company.

There’s no easy fix to this problem, as many of the companies who try to police their employees’ content will only serve to attract the unwanted media attention on the issue.

What many social media detractors often seem to forget is that platforms like Twitter and Facebook are blank canvases; they don’t produce content, they just host it.

The issue of whether social media can be dynamite or kryptonite for a company lies in the abilities and knowledge of those posting the content. This means adopting a company-wide social media policy, and ensuring that employees understand it.

It also means taking the time to adapt content for specific platforms – a post on LinkedIn might be markedly different to one posted on Twitter, for example. It’s also important that you understand which platform works for your business – for example in the food industry you should use image based platforms like Instagram for maximum effect.

Over a decade into the social media age, companies who lack a smart and considered online presence are beginning to look like the leatherback turtle (very rare and almost extinct).

Social media is a marketing goldmine, and it’s time that every company took a shot at striking gold.