Social Networking in Business – Good or Bad?

One of the most vigorously debated issues today is the place of Social Networking in the workplace:
• Should companies be using Social Networking in their marketing mix?
• Should staff be allowed access to Social Networking while at work?

Much of the debate stems from a lack of understanding of what Social Networking is all about and how it should be used, or not used. Many people, in fact, still equate Social Networking with inane information about where somebody is currently sitting doing some introspective navel-gazing, whereas it can – and should – be a highly effective medium for raising the profile of the business, encouraging interaction with all stakeholders and generally enhancing its position in the market.

A great example here is Twitter. While there has been much attention given to an August study from Pear Analytics suggesting that only 8.7% of all Tweets pass along value, the fact is that this misses the point of what a tool like Twitter can really be used for in a business marketing environment. It could, for example, be a wonderful way for customers to get quick status updates on service issues (Direct Tweet the Job Number to your Service Dept) or to see where a shipment is (Direct Tweet a Waybill Number to your Shipping Dept). What about having special-interest customers following a particular product group in your company for news on that product and, possibly, special offers? In fact, the uses for this sort of interaction are limited only by imagination…

Facebook, too, is not simply a tool to show who was drinking too much at the last party. Rather, in the right hands it becomes a great way to promote your business to a wide audience and to gain a set of “Fans” who, by their very presence, are opt-in customers for your marketing efforts. This can be a direct, company page where you share information on your company (or simply a specific product group within your company) and encourage feedback from your “Fans” or can be a more subliminal way of getting your company noticed through making available information of more general use such as the (very topical for this article) Social Media for Small Business set of guides published by Dell.

Of course, if you’re going to open yourself up for public feedback with systems like Twitter and Facebook, it’s essential that you have somebody monitoring your name/page and responding to the inevitable negative comments that will crop up from time to time – thereby turning negatives into easily-seen positives.

Then there are tools like LinkedIn – a great way to find people for your business and to manage your own business profile for those looking at potentially working with you (yes, prospective employees do research your company to see what is out there!).

By tying all of this together with your own Social Networking platform of customers, etc., you can promote your business, conduct online training or product releases, run polls to test issues, manage events and generally make your customers feel part of “your family.” What’s more, you no longer have to contend with outdated mailing lists as your “fans”/customers keep their information updated for you…

So – in answer to the question as to whether companies should be using Social Networking in their marketing mix, an emphatic YES. The secret is to define your objectives and utilise the appropriate tools, remembering, too, that these will evolve and change over time.

And as for the second part of the question – whether employees should have access to Social Networking sites – if this is a part of your marketing mix, your employees need to be a part of it, too. Where there is evidence of individual abuse, as will happen (just as it does with the telephone, coffee breaks, etc., etc.), action against those individuals can be taken – it’s just a question of the right level of monitoring and control, particularly as the lines between work time and leisure time blur in this connected world.

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5 responses to “Social Networking in Business – Good or Bad?

  1. From my perspective, as long as an employee is getting their work done, they should be allowed to look at facebook/personal email etc whenever they like. As you mention, the lines between personal and leisure lives are continually blurring, and I’ve seen some recent research that shows that allowing workers to do personal things at work (like ‘wasting’ a little time on facebook) tends to make them happier, more engaged and loyal employees. ..

  2. Catarina – I agree – there are invariably people who will abuse any policy or at least stetch it. But it is the same issue for companies as when emails and the web became available to all employees or for that matter time for employees who make a lot of personal calls at work.

    The company must have guiding policies that outline the dos and don’ts of any communication avenue. If structured correctly, the company could benefit immensely from employee involvement and it could help strengthen the advocacy and loyalty of the employee to the company.

  3. Social media should definitely be an important part of promoting companies, countries, products or you yourself for that matter. Depending on what you are promoting and what your objective is you use it accordingly.

    Having said that I do believe that a certain type of employees spending time on Facebook is a complete waste of time for a company, but then again, how do you restrict that? In particular if a company uses Facebook for marketing purposes.

  4. Social networking makes the most sense when you consider it in the context that EVERYONE in the company is in marketing – whether they work in that department or not. Social networking now encourages employees know what the company does and how it does it so that they can communicate this quickly and easily through social media tools.

    I agree policies need to be in place but YES! let’s use the power technology has to connect with customers.

    • Thanks, Margaret. I couldn’t agree more!

      Companies lose sight of the fact that everyone is a part of the broader marketing team, as you say, through interaction with stakeholders in the business.

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