Companies are still in the early stages of providing social networking tools to employees to allow them to collaborate in new ways and explore other uses for them. Optimists believe the result eventually will be a significant increase in innovation and efficiency in the workplace--and a corresponding decrease in costs.
Business Uses of Social MediaBusiness analysts believe that social networking can help companies with:
- Marketing -- Social media can be an effective way to reduce marketing costs and reach out directly to existing and potential customers. Most companies are experimenting with multiple types of social media, from social networks to podcasts, video and photo sharing, blogging, review and opinion sites, and of course Twitter.
- Customer service -- Increasingly, companies are communicating through social media to help address concerns and problems with individual customers. Twitter is a popular listening and outreach tool, for example.
- Employee collaboration -- Corporate social networking tools like Yammer can help employees work together to solve problems and brainstorm new ideas. In some cases, they allow communication between groups that previously had not easy way to talk. Optimists hope that social media will help empployees improve the business processes of their company and thereby reduce costs, among other benefits.
- Crowdsourcing - Many companies are utilizing social media to tap the public for expertise, wisdom and ideas about how to improve their business processes.
- Partnerships -- Companies also are using social media to communicate with business partners and to give those partners access to internal communication channels that prevously were closed to all outsiders.
- Recruiting, Hiring -- Is there a company on the planet that does not use LinkedIn or other social media to recruit new employees? Plenty of firms are tapping their employees' social networks to identify potential new hires. The fact that many people put so much information about their careers and job experiences in their social media profiles has opened new opportunities for companies to research potential employees through social networking sites.
- Advertising -- Placing ads on Facebook or Twitter is still a relatively new type of business promotion, but many companies are finding it effective for highly targeted outreach, especially on Facebook.
Enterprise Social Networking PlatformsCompanies have lots of choices for developing in-house social networks for employees. Here are some popular platforms:
- Yammer --The big kahuna of enterprise social networking is Yammer, a software platform with an interface resembling Facebook's. It allows employees to have individual profiles, connect with colleagues, publish status updates, and view custom news feeds from their Yammer connections.Our full review of Yammer explains how it works.
- Jive Software also is popular in social networking for business. Like Yammer, the publicly traded Jive Software Inc. provides a Facebook-like platform that companies can use to allow employees to form connections and communicate directly. In its early days, Jive required corporate IT departments to install its software, but in spring 2012 Jive copied competitors and allowed anyone with a business email address to set up Jive networks on its website through a 30-day free trial.
- Chatter from SalesForce.com is another popular social networking tool for business.
- Connections from IBM is popular with large companies.
- Tibbr from Tibco provides social media tools for business.
- Lithium Technologies is a smaller outfit that provides social media software to companies and other organizations.
Social Media PoliciesIt can be challenging to create a company policy on the use of social media and social networking tools because both are so new, but it's still a good idea.
Firms that don't take time to inform their employees on best practices in this emerging communication area risk making mistakes that can boomerang and harm the company's reputation.
If you have a company guidebook or handbook, that's a good place to start. It's also a good idea to start with a meeting at which employees are given the social media guidelines in writing and also given an opportunity to ask questions after an oral presentation on what the company expects and prohibits in the use of social media tools.