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30 August 2011

JOHANNESBURG, August 30, 2011 - Leading skills and development company, AstroTech Training has called on South African companies to openly encourage the use of social networking sites, saying they manage brands and enhance reputations in the eyes of millions of customers.

"Organisations, companies and corporations that have not yet ventured into the world of social media are missing a sizeable business opportunity," said Liza van Wyk, CEO of AstroTech Training.

Van Wyk said networking once looked like a social event before a conference. Now it is a new frontier that includes Web sites that allow people to collect and manage information and communicate openly.

"In the workplace, this means the limitless organisational structure has arrived. Now that the Internet allows people free access to one another, and the informal network of relationships and its power is set free, so is the formula for leadership success," said van Wyk.

She said the business world is experiencing an ongoing and rapid proliferation in the use of social networking. Although this has many benefits, hardly a week goes by without yet another new story of a viral tweet or posting that has the potential to damage the reputation of a business, underscoring the need for companies to be proactive in this area.

"Studies show that leaders who extended their networks beyond those they have immediate access to (internal team of staff and employees) realize better strategic outcomes. Therefore, leaders find benefit from an understanding of social networks available to them," said van Wyk.

Van Wyk said social networking sites can, if used correctly, generate interest in an employer's brand and possibly employee's and help a business maintain contact with clients and business associates; with individuals in some instances reconnecting with past friends and/or acquaintances.

The main value of social networking sites to their users is to create and sustain interactions with broad networks of people on a range of topics while at the same time building the trustworthiness of those networks.

However, van Wyk said any business must first determine what it wants to achieve from social media: Is it increased sales? Is it better customer interaction? Is it tailored marketing? It also needs to be clear about who it is trying to reach, customers or other businesses niche markets? For example each social media, whether Twitter, Facebook or Linked-in, have very different demographic profiles.

"Networking provides the vehicle for people to reach across and outside an organisation to find resources for information and action.

"In order to harness the benefits and minimise the risks of social networks, employers need to set distinct and specific policies and practices for their use," she said.

According to a survey by London-based Proskauer's International Labour & Employment Group, nearly half of 120 multinational companies surveyed did not have social media and networking policies in place, despite the fact that 76 percent use social networking for business purposes. In addition, 43 percent of the respondents have reported employee misuse of social networks.

In the past six years, social networking sites have become phenomena of the workplace, whether for personal or professional use. The use of social networking sites such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, and Twitter enables individuals to increase their online visibility by setting up personal web pages and creating online communities of friends and professional contacts