Social Networking Technology and Business

The merge of social networking technology and business has caused an epic shift in working culture as a whole, especially when it comes to the new required levels of transparency in businesses. Enterprises are now obliged to be more interactive on a personal level with their customer, whether their customers are other businesses or the general public. The whole marketing monologue of a company now needs to be shifted to an ongoing dialogue with customers over a wholly public channel, moving the power straight into the realm of the consumers.

With such a strong demand for not only an online presence but an active, engaged, interactive, social and networking personality, how can a company find a balance between social networking for the benefit of their business and networking for the recreation of their employees? The fact is, social media means different things to different people, to some it is just a place to connect with friends, and to others it is a valuable tool through which to convey the personality of their business.

Inside the workplace, is the promotion of social networking as acceptable work activity really justifiable? Are your staff encourage to tweet, blog and update for the company, do you have one person solely dedicated to such tasks? Or is there a blanket ban on all forms of social media uses whilst on the clock? So the debate battles on… There are considerable doubts as to whether set rules that favour either opinion can be successfully monitored by managers or HR without sending the wrong messages to employees about work ethics and levels of expectation.

Opening up social media as a way of handling customer service is also causing a split of opinion, the combination of online platforms and cloud-based technology can provide intelligent solutions to small businesses who are struggling to handle the needs of customers. It allows them to cater for consumers who now want their questions answered and demands met around the clock; intense as this seems the insight into customers’ needs and most importantly; their wants, are the result of opening such channels, which many believe is very much worth the trade-off.

So, increasing numbers of SMEs are reaping the benefits of a good social networking policy, however it is very important to measure its effectiveness, no one policy is a right fit for all businesses, it must be adapted to meet your specific needs.

How do you reap the benefits of social networking? Social media platforms are hubs for promotions and giveaways, are you using them for this purpose? Are your security settings set to allow comments from everyone? Opening up work-orientated social media sights is one thing, actively trying to drive traffic there is another, the extended networking circles of employees are a good place to start, but potential and existing customers should be next on the list.

Many small businesses have adapted to using Facebook as a recruiting tool, believing that this medium allows them to locate the candidate with the best cultural fit for the company, plus someone who is naturally enthusiastic about the brand, which is always a place to good begin when searching for new-hires. Employing individuals who are already engaged with the company may benefit retention rates and improve customer service levels as a high engagement level is also linked to a strong belief in the objectives of the business.

If correctly managed, the amount of social media users alone is reason enough to allow social networking, the potential reach for a company is astronomical. If there is a solid policy in place then perhaps usage can be successfully managed in a way that would only do positive things for the business. On the flip-side, the method of actually implementing a blanket ban, regardless of the size of the HR department, is a considerable task to tackle. A sense of distrust would be immediately established when imposing stringent restrictions; this may affect retention rates as well as motivation levels if employees feel they are constantly monitored for social network activity as opposed to actual work productivity.

Irrespective of the decision, having a social media policy in place is paramount, so at least the boundaries (or lack of them) are clear from the start. This policy should clearly detail what the company considers to be fair usage of social networking and also guidelines about what distance needs to be maintained between the personal and professional when it comes to social media.