August 2, 2011

With LinkedIn already trading on the NYSE and Facebook on the brink of a $100 billion IPO, it is clear that social media is firmly entrenched in our culture and our commerce.

The pace of change in media and communications—and the related effects on basic human interaction—are breathtaking. Even businesspeople in their mid-40s can remember phone lines without voicemail, messages written on slips of pink paper and departmental communications circulated in brown envelopes with a staff list stapled to the front.

Over the years, the introduction of each new communications tool has raised numerous questions. Does voicemail improve productivity, or does useful discourse take twice as long because of confusing or incomplete messages? Do text messages, Twitter streams and RSS feeds deliver useful information, or distract people from important tasks? Is what we gain in efficiency worth what we lose in authenticity?

The instantaneous (and pervasive) nature of social media raises similar issues—and then some. How can you effectively manage your brand, public perceptions of your company and potential security breaches if your customers are talking about you online, if rumors spread in minutes and if your employees are inadvertently disclosing confidential information?

All of this said, we cannot turn back the clock. It's the rare business, for example, that can forgo creating and maintaining its own website. No email address? Unheard of in the age of 24/7 electronic communication. Afraid of LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook? You could be left in the dust by your colleagues and competitors.

Ultimately, what does the rise of social media mean for your company? Are these online platforms reducing human interaction or providing a welcome expansion of it? Does social networking lower productivity or contribute to your bottom line? The questions are fascinating—but I suspect that your answers will be even more compelling.

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This article contains material of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Under applicable rules of professional conduct, this content may be regarded as attorney advertising.