How telling that I should be alerted to Joseph's main blog on trust issues from his microblog on twitter! To the question - “Do social media in business breach or build trust?” - Like any communication platform, surely it has the potential to do both.

While the recent Edelman study points to greater credibility given to company websites compared to social networking channels, their research in March suggests that social media sites are critical agents of checks. Organisations’ websites are only credible when trust is maintained. But how would an organisation know if they have breached faith with their publics? With the complex nature of online communication, can the Public Relations practitioners exercise control over and manage the information received, evaluate the success of their communication and status of their relationships?
Can they afford not to engage and test the boundaries of social media?

In an online survey of over 2,000 small business owners , 45% registered their presence on facebook or twitter. While the motive is to save on marketing and advertising costs which these companies deem to be ‘a luxury’, 75% report monitoring online reviews of their businesses. This investment of time and manpower by such a large number of small businesses is indicative of the value to be had from establishing an online presence and developing new business relationships.

As for reservations over the damage potential of social media, should we dwell on this at the expense of its benefits? ‘New media’ is some 20 years old and it’s not letting up. If it’s a fad, it has an incredibly long life-span. Even the hardest critic of social media must concede that it’s a growing vehicle for communication today and a driver of social change. It’s been hyped as the biggest shift since the industrial revolution and if number crunching facts are anything to go by, there are grounds for this.

But like all communication channels, social media is the instrument of messages and we, its participants. The question is not if it breaches or builds trust but if WE do.
Are we venturing where angels fear to tread?
I say …tread gently by tread all the same :)

Posted by Khairiah
How many of you now regard Facebook as a hobby – and alternative to reading and watching TV?  I see students in AUT University's media laboratories logged in to Facebook when I used to think they would be working on assignments.  In the same manner, some of my family members gravitate to our home computer for a quick ‘fix’ of Facebook when they come to visit.  (We have placed the laptop in a corner of the living room to socialise the addicts.)

Some organisations block access to Facebook, Twitter, and even Trade Me at all times or all day except during the lunch hour.  For employers, it is a tough decision.  One hears of staff being fired for spending too much time on social media sites.  It can simply get out of hand.  Other research tells us that the internet has increased productivity, so organisations leave all sites open to staff.

I was interested to read the strategies adopted by more experienced users of social media in an article by Cindy Krischer Goodman in the Miami Some of their ideas sounded quite familiar.  For instance, like me, one user would reply promptly to some messages and comments that needed a response, and wait until the end of the day to respond to the others.  In my case ‘the end of the day’ can be 48 hours later.

In the Miami Herald article: Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group, recommends that we set our own goals for social media so it becomes a tool, not a distraction; Niala Boodhoo of Poked blog suggests a Mozilla Firefox plug-in called Leechblock.  This allows you to set a time limit for a site, or block access for a set period; Alex de Carvalho uses two screens, one for work and one for personal contact and uses his iPhone when he is on the move or waiting for an appointment.  He doesn’t separate his time between business and leisure.

Furthermore, ideas are being promoted every day for using social media as part of a business’s marketing mix.  But they are more than that: They are alternative media to mainstream news and vital tools for building relationships which mingle friendship with custom and service.  Social media also provide forums for reputations to be built and destroyed.
That is why they have been claimed so strongly by public relations practitioners and why they have attracted the attention of researchers including the Public Relations Society of America.  In a recent, highly readable ‘2009 Digital Readiness Report’  the authors warn that some organizational communi­cators seem somewhat bedazzled by social media.  They appear to see social networking, micro-blogging and blogging as more important than actively managing the content at their own corporate website. 

This may indicate a fundamental gap in judgement with respect to online communication planning – partic­ularly when other research shows that people find company websites more credible than social media channels: For instance,
he ‘2009 Edelman Trust Barometer’ notes that, as a source of company information, a company’s own website is seen as more credible than business blogs, personal blogs, social networking sites and advertising. 

And trust is the gold standard of successful public relations.