How to tame the social network at work

What you don't know -- or refuse to learn -- about social networking could undermine your business

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"Generally speaking, the policy should be comprehensive but not so rigid that it causes employees to try to circumvent your security controls," he says. "It should be written in a positive tone that creates a feeling of empowerment, as opposed to 'don't do this' or 'you can't do that.'"

Another solution: "Don't hire stupid employees," says Jan Aleman, CEO for Servoy, a developer of hybrid SaaS and on-premises software with 108 employees. "At Servoy people already know what they can and cannot say on Facebook. As an open source company we don't have a lot of secrets. You can already see everything our tech guys are doing, because we commit our code to a public place. But if you had a bigger company or less intelligent people working for you, you'd probably want some guidelines in place."

Taming the social network: Tapping insights from 500 million of your closest friends

Despite the difficulties, having a presence on social networks is rapidly becoming a requirement for doing business. Yet some enterprises are still balking, notes Underwood.

"It's like we're back in 1993, when enterprises were trying to decide whether to participate in this thing called the Internet or simply ignore it," he says.

For things like recruiting, marketing, and customer service, using public social nets is a no-brainer. For example, Servoy actively trolls Facebook groups built around fourth-generation programming languages like FoxPro and recruits their members to webinars. It also uses its Facebook presence to solicit feedback from customers.

"It's good to talk to your customers and find out what they think is important," says Aleman. "Otherwise you could develop your products in a way you think is best but isn't what the market wants."

IBM has folded Facebook and Twitter into its corporate communications strategy, just as it did with blogs five years ago, says Rooney.

"We have people on Facebook actively talking about the things they're working on at IBM, which we see as a big positive," says Rooney. "When people are looking for a particular kind of expertise, Facebook makes it more possible to discover that at IBM. Social media gives us a pathway to engage directly with clients, demonstrate openness, project the future of what we're working on. It's a way to collect feedback on what we're working on and improve our product offerings."

Language learning company Rosetta Stone recently integrated its Parature CRM and customer support systems with Facebook, offering the same knowledge bases and support options like live chat on Facebook as it does on its its own website, as well as the same ability to capture all of that real-time customer data in its CRM. Launched in August, Rosetta's Facebook page had already garnered more than 22,000 fans at press time.

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