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Why Every Company Needs to Embrace Social Media

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This post was originally posted at Employee Evolution

Social media is changing everything. Business Week recently published an article about the power of social media and how companies are beginning to embrace it, because they really don’t have a choice. Not everyone has a blog, or wants to blog, but you would be hard pressed to find many people who aren’t on some type of social network. Now it’s time for corporate America to follow suit and meet their potential customers on their own turf, or risk falling behind the times.

The article says, “It’s as if the walls around our companies are vanishing and old org charts are lying on their sides.”

There is truth to that statement. Social media is changing how business works, so businesses better figure out how social media works. Here’s why every company needs to embrace social media, now.

Brand Awareness and Traffic

Brand awareness is crucial, it always was. But today you have to go beyond old media to market your message to the masses.

On Friday, my post about Gen Y changing the work place was picked up on Stumble Upon and Digg. On Sunday, 60 Minutes re-aired a segment featuring my blog. Guess what? Our site received 4 times more traffic and 10 times more comments on Friday then it did on Sunday. When prime time national media attention can’t compete with a couple of niche websites on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, you know that things just aren’t what they used to be. These days, if you want to create real brand awareness, you better start with the niche communities.

Passive Job Seekers

Job boards are dying, fast. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Lou Adler, a chief executive of the Adler Group, a company that trains corporate recruiters on hiring practices, says, “I certainly see many, many companies posting their jobs on job boards….and not getting any results and wondering why.”

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The reason why is because people aren’t actively looking for jobs. They are, however, actively browsing social media sites and spending time on social networks, and even if they don’t know it, they’re passively looking for jobs. The smartest companies are taking advantage of this and creating a social media presence.

Someone may not be looking for a job, but if they stumble across an interesting blog post, Facebook page, or Twitter profile that mentions a great company, they will take the time to investigate further. So everyone is a passive job seeker. It’s up to every company to create a large enough online presence so the right people will stumble on them.

Credibility

Online credibility comes from the way you handle your brand and the links and references your blog or website receives. When people link to you, it’s like an unofficial endorsement from that person. Think of it like politics. When John Edwards endorsed Barack Obama, it made a big splash. A company can gain serious online street-cred when one of the big guns endorses them.

But again, like politics, the common folks matter too. You must first establish credibility with the masses, and then the big fish can provide you that final push. Even if it takes a while, online credibility will eventually lead to mainstream coolness.

The Coolness factor

The majority of social networks and social media sites are not “mainstream cool.” Outside of Silicon Valley and the 900,000 tech crunch readers, the majority of people don’t know what Friend Feed, Digg, or even Twitter is. But your company should, if you want to be cool. Why be cool?

If your company can adopt a bunch of these new technologies and figure out how to properly use them to leverage your brand, at some point it will pay off. Not only will your company immediately be considered cool in the tech world, but when one of these sites becomes a legitimate hit, like Twitter is about to become, your company will be mainstream-cool as well.

And when you’re mainstream cool, everything changes. You’ll have people knocking down your doors trying to get an interview with your company. Just ask Google.

Controlling the conversation

Social media is a constant conversation and because of this, business is now a constant conversation. It’s acomment string on Brazen Careerist, its someone’s Facebook wall, and it’s a Linked In recommendation. Someone, somewhere is out there talking about your company, and they can say whatever they want. All you can do is control the conversation.

Controlling the conversation does not mean telling people how to talk about your company or spamming a couple bloggers with job postings or company descriptions. It means creating a presence where you can initiate and continue a conversation.

What social media requires is authenticity, because even a newbie social media user can sniff out a phony quickly. But authentic conversation isn’t what most companies do naturally. So when corporations want to initiate a conversation, they have to find the right people, and they better empower those people to tell the truth, which isn’t always great news to deliver.

Starbucks is a great example. When things started going south, they publicly admitted to being at fault. They started a social networking site to ask for help from the customers. And we all remember when they shut down the stores across the country for an afternoon to address some fundamental problems. Smart decisions like that come when you take the time to start a conversation and then remember to listen, too.

It’s not easy. It takes a ton of time and it may even consist of a couple full time hires, but establishing a social media presence is worth it. Sooner or later every company will be actively using social media, but the trendsetters are the one’s who will get the most out of it. Don’t be left behind.

Ryan Healy is the COO/Co-Founder of Brazen Careerist and regularly writes and speaks on all things Gen Y, Careers and Entrepreneurship‬

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