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Social media is here to stay—with 400 million Facebook users (at last count), social media is an undeniable cultural force. And, that means businesses need to figure out how to make it work for them, or suffer the consequences of damaged brand and online criticism. Channel Insider takes a closer look at the top five things companies can do to bring social media stakeholders into the fold, and how you can make Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn work for your business.

Tip 1: Go ahead—share, but…
More than Facebook users, corporations are liable for information they share. Be sure you have a solid social media policy in place(/news-and-trends/reining-in-facebook-and-twitter-threats//)  that ensures that information that is tweeted, shared and posted publicly is vetted and does not put your company or its sensitive information at risk. And, make sure that information is accurate – just ask BP, who has been suffering a proverbial firestorm filled with rage and media criticism because of their self-aggrandizing and inaccurate tweets over the past two months. Then, of course, there’s the fake BP Twitter feed ( No business wants to be in that situation.

Tip 2: Is it time to move to the Cloud?
Social spaces and collaboration applications that make it easy to communicate are built around open and rich multimedia environments. And, your new stakeholders expect to be able to share, “digg,” and recommend in the new social world. Moving data to the cloud can greatly lessen the demand on corporate bandwidth. And, increasingly on-demand application providers are providing APIs, monitoring and direct access to applications from Facebook, Twitter and other social media communities.

Tip 3: Never forget the importance of a trusting relationship
Want to build your brand?( /news-and-trends/using-social-media-to-market-var-business//)  How about foster an army of customer advocates ready to go to bat for you in customer forums and on the Twitter boards? Then, be a good corporate citizen and be trustworthy. Again, we are brought back to the newest lessons from BP’s recent behavior on social media communities—the truth will set you free…eventually, and it builds closer customer and partner relationships.

Tip 4: Don’t forget Internal collaboration
With all the buzz around external social media communities, take a look at how your internal communications can be transformed by collaborative on-demand solutions like those available from hosted Exchange providers like Intermedia solutions (/news-and-trends/ingram-micro-offers-intermedias-cloud-email//) . The ability to share information, maximize corporate resources, both human and technological, better positions you to utilize the resources and the skill sets you have at your fingertips. It also keeps every employee, from the VP to the mailroom clerk, apprised of corporate goals and strategy so corporate energy is focused on your overall objective.

Tip 5: Empower your Employees
Employees can be your best ambassadors in the competitive war waging within the social media community. You want to have a social media policy in place, for sure, but don’t restrict employee use of social media as some CIOs have done. Let your employees share opinions, thoughts and news to combat criticism and negative publicity, and they will play an instrumental role in communicating your corporate message and furthering your objectives.

For more information on how online social communities are becoming increasingly important to corporation, Verizon recently sponsored a study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit called "Dangerous liaisons: How businesses are learning to work with their new stakeholders." The report provides insightful information on what new stakeholder groups corporations are finding themselves interacting with and what new technologies are driving forward the need for collaboration with new stakeholder communities. The research also provides the results of surveys and interviews with senior executives and their perceived use and importance of social networks. In addition, the research provides some recommendations for enterprises looking to take advantage of social networks to further their business.