Making social networking deliver for you

Social networking may be best known as a consumer phenomenon but as a communication and collaboration concept it also stands to benefit businesses

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Mention social networking and most people immediately think of sites like Facebook, MySpace or Bebo which let people create lists of friends, send messages to each other, share photos or music, join groups with like-minded-individuals and just generally keep in touch.

Images of industriousness rarely spring to mind, yet many organisations have realised that it’s not all just super-poking and games of Scrabulous, and want to use their own social networks for the benefit of their businesses.

The potential for social networking tools to connect huge numbers of people has been clearly illustrated. Companies want to harness that power themselves, and not just for marketing or recruitment, but also for internal communications and collaboration.

One HR executive recently, rather mournfully, said to me, “Fifty per cent of our staff are on Facebook. Why can’t we get that kind of buy-in?” Although Facebook is primarily a tool for organising your personal life, people also use it for business and, increasingly, companies realise that they have to provide such tools internally or else employees will communicate over the web, potentially risking sensitive company data.

Another significant driver pushing companies to adopt social networking tools is the need to locate expertise within companies whose employees are dispersed across many locations and time zones, a problem exacerbated by restructured offices that emphasise teleworking and hot-desking. It was this, along with the emergence of Web 2.0, that formed the backdrop to IBM’s exploration of social networking.

“One of the most important things within IBM is finding expertise,” says Alastair MacKenzie, Lotus Software brand executive at IBM.

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