Social media: help or hindrance?

Social media is in the midst of a really great run. Sites like Facebook and Twitter (and more recently, Google Plus) have reunited old friends and given us the news we all crave in real-time.

Facebook is still the big dog in the pack — understandably so. Hundreds of millions of people have joined the social network to stay in touch with buddies, score free merchandise from favorite brands or get news from journalists.

But there are also a slew of drawbacks to every social outlet. These sites are no different, and sometimes, employees could violate company policy without even knowing it.

Take, for example, the recent and developing case of Barrett Tryon, a journalist at the Colorado Springs Gazette. On Wednesday, Tryon posted a story on his Facebook page about his company’s buyout plans with a quote from a story on the topic. While it appears he didn’t know the error of his ways, he is now in hot water with the Gazette and has been placed on administrative leave.

And that’s the conundrum of social media — even when you don’t think you’re acting out of line, you might be breaking rules simply by sharing company news with your friends. With Twitter, writers and pundits might have 20,000 tweets or more to their record, and most of them are injected with opinion. Mess up one of those tweets along the way and you could lose your job.

So is social media more harmful or helpful for professionals?

I still believe it’s a good tool for journalists. It’s another way for writers to make a name for themselves, and it provides another way to network with readers and make the entire experience more personal. Despite a recent survey by Mashable that showed more sports fans get their news from Facebook than any other social media site, I do believe Twitter is the best way to learn about breaking news. However, Twitter is built off pure thoughts and opinions of the people who use it, which can present more chances to slip up.

In the end, all you can do is keep it professional and keep it limited to the people who are your approved friends (on Facebook, at least).

What do you think? Is social media a helpful tool that is here to stay, or is it a harmful nuisance that won’t stand the test of time?

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