Regardless of what executives or collective management think, social networks are already shaping how business is done. From how projects are managed to how customers interact with your company, social networks are here and can have a positive effect on any organization. Here are 4 practical reasons to jump on the bandwagon.
Working The Social Scene
Whether it be Facebook, Twitter or the many business products that are throwing social apps into their feature lists with abandon, you cannot ignore the impact of social media on your business. With claims that the use of social networks helped win Barack Obama the presidency, and with many major companies represented across a growing number of social sites, can you afford not to engage? What is in it for you and what would you do with this social intercourse?
Social networks come in many flavors; the wiki that allows staff to disseminate best practices, tips and advice; the Facebook fan page or Twitter account that lets customers interact with representatives to the community built from the ground up for clients/customers. There are a wide range of possibilities, and you don't have to be a multinational to make an impact.
Internal Versus External
Internal social networks help enhance the usual communication systems such as phone and e-mail. They can also improve how the organization collates and transfers knowledge between experts and new hires, separate departments across regions, and between management and the workforce.
External social services let your company interact with the wider public, potential customers and also tie your company and its products in with live news and events. For example, how many millions of people saw "Gmail is down, why not use our service?" messages at the height of the last Google outage?
With that in mind what are the reasons that someone would let the perils of social networking loose within their enterprise?
1. Get a New Voice With Twitter
Reasons to use: Popular, quick reaction from interested parties, instantaneous launch time, new way to develop and improve customer relationships
For a smaller company or any organization wanting to ride the wave of Twitter's popularity, the micro-blogging service provides a free way to get a message out there and 'meet' customers/users/clients. With the focus on the message, thanks to the 140 character limit, there is little room for fluff, flowery prose, just get to the point.
While anyone can use the Twitter website or a free application such as TweetDeck, there are plenty of business-focused applications to help manage your company's Twitter interactions in a more fruitful manner. These tools can help focus the tweets to local markets, ensure customer queries are met, schedule future tweets and show how positive or negative the flow of comments is.
Gives a free voice for your company or product.
Perfect place to adopt an informal or casual tone.
Allows questions to be asked and answered in real time.
Requires regular attention and consistent application of the company message.
Can become a focal point for trivial complainers.
Missteps or mistakes can (and will) be publicly broadcast.
Can become a drain on time and resources for smaller companies.
2. Build a Knowledge Base
Reasons to use: Quick to set up, easy to add and link information, allows debate for contentious issues.
While Wikipedia as a social phenomena is old news, the concept of the wiki -- a group updated source of information -- is being adopted at a rapid rate by business. Concepts such as "smart working" and "knowledge sharing" are common workplace motifs. If only for one group working on a single project, or to be implemented across the company, a wiki can help collaboration, spread knowledge and reduce delays as staff become aware of the source of knowledge.
For smaller companies, this can be a freely implemented ad-hoc project. But, in larger enterprises, the chiefs will want to see measurable goals and results, which should be set in advance.
For wikis, the one key measure of success is not how good the technology is, but how good the input is from users. So, a high-quality introduction and guide to whichever service you choose to use is essential, as is a firm guide to what level of comments and feedback are acceptable or otherwise.
Many vendors offer enterprise focused wiki solutions and there are some good open source options which require little more than some IT elbow grease for initial prototyping. Consider these products: Atlassian Confluence, eTouch Samepage (SaaS and on-premise), Media Wiki, SocialText, TikiWiki, Twiki (SaaS or on-premise) and Windows SharePoint Services (free version has wiki functionality).
Helps place disparate information in one place.
Can make it quicker to get new hires working.
Often free or low-cost to implement.
Requires positive staff acceptance and input to work well.
Can be an easy source of information for departing staff to take with them.
3. Strengthen Distributed or Virtual Teams
Reasons to use: Social media tools are great for creating a focal point for distributed offices and project teams. They encourage vibrant communication.
A couple of steps up from creating a wiki for a project is the use of collaboration software or services to manage a project in its entirety. This can include the use of time scheduling, instant messaging, file and document sharing, whiteboard discussions and budget management.
Large companies invest in unified communications and collaboration which ties in mobile devices, desk-based phones and any computer a person uses to ensure they are always update, available for the maximum amount of time and that the right message gets to the right person as quickly as possible.
Huddle is a good example of a collaboration site and is available for free in an ad-supported version with priced offerings at various levels all the way up to enterprise.
Acts as a central office for remote staff.
Maximizes the availability of people and information.
Hosted services can floor a project in the event of unexpected downtime.
Wrong or bad information can be spread just as quickly as good information.
Requires thoughtful execution and some training.
4. The Expert Blog
Reasons to use: Need to promote skills/products to a niche audience, want quality external input,
While some users want their social interactions to be viewed by millions, some companies are only interested in fishing for a limited number of prospective clients in their field. Here, the niche blog can be the social tool of choice.
Packed with the right SEO keywords, useful information for those within the field and practical advice for those would-be customers your blog can become a living, growing advert that can attract interest and customers. Developing a reputation as an expert in your company's field will also attract students, practitioners and fellow experts for pragmatic discourse over the blog, and potential recruitment opportunities down the line.
There are several big-hitter blogging services like Google's Blogger.com, MoveableType and WordPress which provide all the features required to start building a site that will attract your kind of people.
A good way for companies with information/knowledge assets to generate awareness.
A great way to encourage public dialog in a longer form.
Requires some time to build the content and awareness required.
Already lots of competition in most fields.
If not done well, can quickly send the wrong message.
Make Time for Community
Take a look at any existing social site and you can see companies throwing their weight behind a corporate or brand presence. This could be to get a message or product 'out there,' manage a conversation that would otherwise be held without them, work closer with clients/customers and forge new relationships.
It sometimes only takes a few minutes to start a social relationship or shift existing ones, yet the rewards can be long term and highly beneficial.