Social Networking Sites: A Business Pangea?

One-in-five Americans now use one or more Social Networking Sites (SNS), according to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press report, and many SNS are finding the 35-years-and-older crowd to be their fastest growing demographic, as James Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc observes about Facebook. (While, ironically, more and more teens are becoming more cautious when approaching SNS, with more than 75% holding significant concerns about security on SNS and almost 25% not joining one for security reasons, according to Lee Cheshire). These recent trends paint a rather unlikely portrait of the current state of SNS and, even more unexpectedly, are forcing businesses to grapple with what their policy concerning employees’ use of SNS should be

As Robin Gareiss of Network World observes, SNS such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace present a swath of opportunities and hurdles for employers. Contrary to what you might expect, many companies are taking the issue of SNS head on. Gareiss notes that “about 26% of businesses use [SNS], and another 28% are evaluating or planning to use them” while another “46% of companies [have] no plans” for SNS.

What’s the position of your organization?

In considering the SNS question, businesses must decide what practical value, if any, an SNS would add. Some businesses (42%) have quickly and decisively determined that SNS would only waste employees’ precious time, and so block them (Nemertes, quote by Gareiss). In addition to the potential time and productivity vacuum, these businesses worry that SNS might deconstruct the professional relationship employees might otherwise maintain with their colleagues by having less fettered access to personal information, thoughts, desires, and self-disclosures.

Other businesses, however, are finding SNS to be invaluable in promoting their products/services and providing their employees with an additional, more flexible interface for connecting with clients and business partners (Gareiss). In fact, some of these companies prefer using SNS because “they like mixing business and personal relationships” and feel that “knowing more about their colleagues or customers builds tighter bonds” (Gareiss). Furthermore, some researchers assert that allowing employees to use SNS can even promote productivity (Challenger). One survey assessing companies’ stances on SNS found that 10% of respondents believed SNS are “invaluable marketing, networking and sales tools,” while another 6% actually encourage their employees to have a presence on these sites (Challenger). A survey by the Institute of Corporate Productivity quoted by Challenger revealed that 52% of workers use SNS to “keep connected with internal and remote staff,” while another 47% use SNS to “identify and build relationships with potential customers and to showcase their skills.”

With an equal amount of data supporting the decision to block SNS as to promote their use, the question for businesses really comes down to what vision they feel more comfortable with: do they envision increased success by fashioning their business into an island unto itself, or do they envision greater success through working to establish a corporate pangea, through which businesses are connected as never before? Or is it even fair to reduce the issue to such a simple binary?

Regardless of what businesses may (or may not) decide,  SNS are not waiting for general acceptance. It seems a new business-oriented SNS rises to the fore daily.  Jay Campbell of Travel Management highlighted two new business SNS this week: i-Meet, a “worldwide professional and social network for meeting and event planners,” and American’ Expresses’ Business Travel Connexion, a network for travel professionals. Other SNS populating the business-oriented neighborhood include Ryze, which describes itself as a helping “people make connections and grow their networks…to grow your business, build your career and life, find a job and make sales;” APSense, a “Free Business Social Network where people get paid to come together to share their business;” and VOIS, declares itself to be “one of the faster growing, publicly-traded global social networking communities” which “encourages its members to promote themselves and their businesses by using VOIS social commerce tools.”

Together, these SNS are forming a movement for sCommerce (social commerce). The fate of sCommerce will likely be determined by whether the majority of businesses will buy into sCommerce as something they can efficaciously leverage, or if they will just see it as an empty, unfulfillable promise.

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See

  • Campbell, Jay. “New Social Networks Emerge for Travel, Meeting Professionals.” Travel Management. 08.13.2008. [Click here].
  • Challenger, James. “Are Social Networking Sites Good for Business?” California Job Journal. 08.10.2008. [Click here].
  • Cheshire, Lee. “Teens Grow Wary of Social Networking.” Growth Business. 08.11.2008. [Click here].
  • Gareiss, Robin. “Social Networking at the Branch.” Network World. 08.12.2008. [Click here].
  • Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. “Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008: Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off.” 01.11.08. [Click here].

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