This is the first of a series of Guest-blog articles from Guy Clapperton, a freelance journalist who has specialised in the small business arena for over a decade. Guy contributes to the Guardian, Times, Financial Times, Independent and Sunday Telegraph and broadcasts very occasionally on the BBC.

Thanks for getting involved Guy !

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This week Facebook is going to get a major overhaul. Companies and celebrities will start to look like ordinary punters, there will be no distinction between the layouts. It will work in real time, it’ll actually be a bit more like Twitter (a company that seems to have caught most of the industry on the hop).

It’s important for the smaller business to be aware of these new social media because of the positives and the negatives they can bring to a business. Let’s take two examples from the large business arena. Last month, ITV showed a football match and had its cameras pointing in the other direction when a goal was scored (I’d quote chapter and verse but it wasn’t tennis so I wasn’t watching). A colleague, who was working in the ITV press office at the time, saw this at a friend’s house. He got onto the Internet immediately, logged on to Twitter and saw a slew of understandable complaints. He put a note up saying ‘I’m here, I’m from ITV, I’m going to find out what’s happening’ – and the wave of disapproval started to turn into something quite supportive because the guy had made himself available.

Negative stuff happens too, of course. Only last week, RyanAir confirmed that it was going onto Twitter to address its customers. The Times had a look and asked, are you sure this is you? RyanAir confirmed that it was, except of course it wasn’t – it was someone insulting RyanAir customers. The impression given, however briefly, was that the budget airline was plain abusive towards paying passengers. Had the story not come off the Times’ servers in record time, it could have done some serious damage.

The issue is quite simple. You need to address the new social media if your business is going to address the online community because if you don’t, frankly someone else will and they may not have your best interests at heart. A good starting point is to search your name and company name on the Internet; that way if there’s any abuse out there (or even positive stuff you can quote), you’ll find it quickly and can work out your strategy from there.

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