2keepNever forget that the Internet forgets nothing. Each status message on Facebook, every blog comment or photo posted can often be found online many years later. All content published online, characterizes your online personality to some extent, giving an overall picture in the end, just like a jigsaw puzzle. Search engines like Google don’t differentiate between private and professional content, thus you will be perceived there as the sum of all which can be found online. Just “google” yourself and you will be amazed to see how much information is available on the net.

Not just for individuals, but for companies as well, the new realities arising out of communication transforming into "social interaction", imply both opportunities and risks. With the help of social media, companies and their representatives start a dialogue with customers and get feedback on their products and services for the first time. By opening up to new communication channels, they also make themselves vulnerable to criticism and negative feedback, which can have fatal consequences.

There always have been media forms that change our communication behavior: thirty years ago it was fax, more than 25 years ago email, and now Facebook, Twitter & Co. are changing the communication landscape. We might still feel unfamiliar in using the new media channels or are even be afraid, but ultimately we will get used to all novel tools at hand. Usually, it is the younger generations who adapt to, embrace and finally carry new media into society.

Whether for business or pleasure, in the end it is all about using social media channels safely and confidently. Thus, companies need to do their part by empowering their employees to a risk-free use of social media.

Are you aware of how many of your employees have a profile on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Facebook as the biggest social network has around 900 million members right now. And a presence on LinkedIn, which is more suitable for the professional business communications, is already part of normal business life.

Employees who are active in social media scare many companies and often make them take precautions - but this can also mean missing good chances at times. Interacting with key stakeholders and having dialogues across all areas of a company, from corporate communications to marketing and human resources, customer service, research and development can also be inspiring and bring new opportunities.

The banning of social media at the workplace won‘t really make things better, as increasingly, work and personal life go hand in hand and a clear distinction usually can’t be drawn. Today, employees are not paid solely for their attendance, but amongst other things for doing flexible, project-oriented work from a home office. In addition, the mobile Internet is growing inexorably. Being online anywhere and anytime is the motto that will shape our future.

In 2013, we live in a highly networked world of communications and we can observe how the media usage patterns shift more and more towards the Internet. Just look at the huge number of Facebook users worldwide, or the micro-blogging service Twitter that has established itself as a news ticker, not to mention the multitude of specialized blogs on various topics.

Each day, around 55 million tweets are posted on Twitter and on YouTube 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute. These are dimensions that no one would have been able to even imagine ten years ago. Social media is no longer just a hype - it is here to stay, being already firmly rooted in our daily private lives and now slowly conquering the business world. Burson-Marsteller's Global Social Media Check-Up study showed that most of the Global Fortune 100 companies are taking social media more seriously these days.

Still, social media is just too often only associated with very specific platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Xing and Co., which are strictly speaking, only working substance.

For businesses, leveraging social media means:

• Exchanging opinions and connecting with others;

• Becoming the medium and publishing own content;

• Facing up to the new form of transparency;

• Learning to respond to online criticism;

• Accepting feedback and sharing it internally to make use of it.

Businesses can’t turn a deaf ear to changed circumstances. But whether they like it or not, employees are online every day and represent their employers inevitably. Therefore, ask them to engage themselves on Facebook, Twitter and Co to promote your brand, which will ultimately benefit directly from such activities, making it more popular and credible.

By Daniela La Marca