Social networking has become a global consumer phenomenon that touches both our personal and professional environments. The technologies and applications created for the consumer are making the move to the
corporate world and are creating a potentially transformational change in organizational structures as well as internal and external communications.
Social networking movement has expanded to encompass a wide variety of media including blogs, wikis, podcasts, video, internet forums, and instant messaging/presence features. Utilizing a variety of technologies and applications that include video and photo sharing, reference, microblogging, and virtual reality, social networking is a constantly changing area where applications integrate with each other, creating environments of collective intelligence, collaborative work, and support communities. So what are the opportunities for your business and how can you make the most of them?
One of the easiest places to get started is internal communications. Here are a couple of examples from two well-known companies, FedEx and Lockheed Martin.
In late 2006, FedEx started using social networking concepts in its FedEx Innovations Labs, an information technology project focused on collaborative thinking. FedEx employees enter areas of personal interest and expertise and then identify colleagues with similar entries. Employees can join issue groups, collaborate on projects, and post videos.
At Lockheed Martin, when the newer generation of workers arrived on the job, management observed an improvement in their efficiencies related to the use of instant messaging to bounce project ideas off each other. Putting a more formalized social networking structure around this communication produced positive results in terms of reduced project cycle times.
For the newer generation employee that is highly adept at multitasking and is comfortable with these types of tools, you should provide an environment that will allow them to be successful,
but at the same time find new metrics to measure their productivity and provide guidance on how to improve their collaboration skills.
Turning to customer communications, the possibilities become even more fascinating. Creating a corporate presence on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter opens up the capability for manufacturers and resellers to have ongoing, direct communications with consumers on a variety of topics. In the process of online, back-and-forth communications, ideas may be generated that provide you with information on how to improve an existing product, service, or process within your company. Or it may even lead to new product ideas or applications that you had never thought of.
Using smaller, niche social networking sites, forums, and message boards can be useful in finding unexpected collaborators ranging from joint scientific or engineering developments to outsourced marketing with expertise to help you find and develop new markets. Learn about where your customers and competitors hang out on the net and create a presence there. Go to them, don’t make them come to you.
Social networking just for the sake of social networking is not a good use of time or money. It needs to connect to your overall corporate strategy and marketing message, becoming one component of many. If you decide to get into social networking you need to spend some time listening and educating before engaging. Your objectives should be clear and your results should be measurable. Set guidelines for your staff that foster a culture of sharing and creativity.
Make your sales staff aware of every piece of social media created and encourage them to share it with interested customers. All online media is swiftly becoming social. Begin looking at every piece of content that your organization creates and make sure that it can become social media also. Social networking is something that you can’t afford to ignore.