Social networking for businesses
So why does my business need to network online? Smallbusiness.co.uk recently reported new research, which claims that small businesses should increase their use of internet blogs in order to communicate with their customers. The study, conducted by WebTrends, shows that only five per cent of companies see the blog as a valuable tool and more than three-quarters have never used the medium.
It seems that companies still prefer more traditional means of internet marketing such as direct email, used by 46 per cent of respondents and web analytics favoured by 37 per cent. Commenting on the figures, Nick Sharp at WebTrends says: "Corporate blogs can be very effective communication tools within or on behalf of a corporate community."
In a survey conducted by email research specialists, emedia, using its RapidResearch service, it was found that only 8% of online networkers use social sites to contact clients or potential clients. However, the survey also indicates that 87% of all respondents think that social networking sites can be used for business purposes, including networking (65%), exchanging ideas (58%), getting advice (44%), recruitment (43%), research (35%) and selling (31%).
Users of social networking sites visit these sites on a regular basis and almost half of them (48%) admit using these websites at work. Nearly one in four (24%) users log in every day with half of them logging in several times a day. Up to 45% of users log in at least once a week.
In an article by Claire West, these statistics are said to show that almost two thirds (62%) of users say they are worried about the safety of their personal data held on these sites. The concern is so high that nearly one third of users (31%) have already entered false information about themselves to protect their identity.
The latest social media site to appear is Facebook - the site that, according to Freshbusinessthinking.com, could well be described as Friends-Reunited-meets-MySpace-meets-Google. But from a business perspective, the article suggests that social networking sometimes seems more like a solution in search of a problem.
LinkedIn.com, for instance, could eventually be a subscription service allowing users to input and manage their contacts and to search for connections - but it is already feeling the heat from Facebook. Will Facebook (and other forms of social media) become appropriate use for enterprise and business?
The Daily Telegraph recently reported that "More than two thirds of employers are banning or restricting the use of Facebook and similar sites over fears that staff are wasting time on them when they should be working".
In an article by Mark Ellis in the same web magazine, he tells us that Facebook has more than 5 million users in the UK alone. "Myspace", which is another "social networking" website, boasts 10 million UK users. Add in to the mix good old fashioned email and things like MSN messaging and you have to wonder if the good people that work for you have much time left to do any real work? Employers are right to be concerned about loss of productivity! It's a serious issue. According to some estimates addicts of Facebook, Myspace and Bebo (that's another social networking site) are costing UK employers more than £100 million a day in lost productivity. Defending the right of employees to surf the TUC has urged employers not to over react by banning access to such sites but to put in place policies to cover the general use of social networking sites.
However you are perfectly within your rights to put such sites off limits altogether and you might well decide to do so, continues Ellis. The TUC suggests a more pragmatic approach which would allow staff access during breaks within mutually agreed parameters. Ellis suggests a clear Internet and Email policy for all staff.
So with the fear of misuse of information and negative views from clients being publicly aired online, why is it that businesses are still seeing social networking as a viable use of their time?
Access to information is key to advancing in the workplace, and having direct access to that information creates great opportunities - in particular for women - in large corporations, especially if they are working part time, from home or are on maternity leave. Tom Crawford, head of employer brand and diversity at professional services firm Deloitte, encourages the use of Facebook whilst providing advice and guidelines on its use, rather than just banning it from the workplace like many other employers.
If you're worried about compromising information that may already be online, Garlik.com offers a service called Data Patrol which scours the internet and then offers you advice, depending on the information that it manages to unearth.
But how can social networking work best for small businesses, who want to increase their ways of keeping in contact with new and existing clients?
In the Dow Jones White Paper "Tracking the Influence of Conversations: A Roundtable Discussion on Social Media Metrics and Measurement", Jeremiah Owyang and Matt Toll tell us that "The advent of social media ' blogs in particular ' (bring) with it at least the potential for removing the barrier between a seller and buyers who are remote ' geographically, economically, culturally or otherwise." They go onto say that "Those questioning social media's impact on corporate marketing strategy today may well work for the same corporations that questioned whether creating a corporate Web site in the mid- and late-1990s, or allowing employees (gasp!) to access the Internet at work, was a wise move."
Aleks Krotoski, conducting research at the University of Surrey into the psychology of online social networks, believes that social software encourages collaboration. It is the social in the software which will bring communities together, building upon the success of its technological predecessors and enhancing, rather than replacing, human interaction.
One online directory of professional service providers has launched a social network online for the exclusive benefit of their service providers. Whether it is to share newsletter links with each other, hobbies, or favourite charities, they hope it will become a place where their professionals UK-wide will be able to get to know each other better, or just pop on occasionally to see what others are up to.
One Social Network Optimiser, writing for O'ReillyGMT about how social network optimisation can become part of a marketing strategy for businesses, believes that companies can no longer deliver a one-way web, 'interact with the consumer or fade away' is the message which every business needs to hear. Search Engine Optimisers have generated large amounts of value in focusing search engine results towards their client's one web site. Now a new breed of "Optimiser" can take the message of the client to the many eyes and in turn create new "conversations" and "awareness" about their client and their business. This social network optimiser believes that SNO Agencies will be another facet of existing disciplines in Public Relations and Marketing Agencies. They will use their own network of Friends and Contacts on-line formed through social networks with which to build new links and ideas between their clients and their audience. SNO Agencies will work with existing Public Relation and Marketing Agencies utilising current conversations and ideas to help promote and direct awareness of the product without directly advertising or "spamming" those communities.
To learn more about how you can use SNO to benefit your business, contact: Nik Butler at www.certainshops.com. For a humorous guide to social networking, visit Blogging For Blondes.
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