Social networking at the branch

* Social networking sites present numerous opportunities and oddities to employees - especially those at branch offices

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Linked In, MySpace, and others, present numerous opportunities and oddities to employees - particularly those at branch offices.

Each site has its own special sauce to help people stay connected and learn more about one another, either by probing into their comments, viewing photos and videos, or reading their profiles.

First, it’s important to understand how pervasive social networking is in the workplace. Now about 26% of businesses use social networking sites, and another 28% are evaluating or planning to use them. That leaves 46% of companies with no plans for social networking. Only about 7% of companies actually encourage social networking, and in fact, 42% explicitly block the sites, according to Nemertes’ latest research project, Unified Communications & Collaboration.

So how are companies turning “social” networking into “business” networking, and where do they draw the line?

The easy answer is that the line is very blurry. And here’s where the oddities come in. Once individuals accept friend requests from business associates, those photos of their kids or their embarrassing photos while over-served are available for open viewing unless they activate the appropriate security settings. And even then, who knows what dirt an old college buddy may unearth on your public comments!

What’s the point, you may ask, in extending social networking sites to the workplace? There are some key benefits.

Businesses can promote what they do (service, product, etc.) via social networking sites. Is this a primary means of marketing or advertising? No. But it recognizes there are numerous preferred interfaces to colleges, friends, and for business relationships, information, and opportunities. This is one way to reach those people who prefer social networking to other avenues.

They also help remote workers stay connected, not only to their colleagues, but to their clients and business partners. Some people say they like mixing business and personal relationships - knowing more about their colleagues or customers builds tighter bonds.

There are downsides, though, and I’ll raise some of those issues next week. In the meantime, let me know about your company’s policy toward social networking, and how it’s worked so far. 

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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