Social Networking in the Workplace

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Over the past five years, use of social media has seen tremendous growth; not just in usage by the average consumer, but also by businesses that are chasing these consumers. In order to take advantage of the potential benefits, businesses must first understand the history of social networking, who the users are (through statistical analysis and business intelligence), the marketing and information management of this platform including CRM (customer relationship management), what potential legal and ethical issues might arise (and how to manage them), where social networking is heading in the future, and finally; whether it is an appropriate fit from a business perspective to invest time and money into social networking. The term “social media” is used to describe the websites and applications used for social networking (Oxford, n.d.). Thus, the terms “social media” and “social networking” are not identical, but they share sufficient similarities to be used interchangeably throughout the following paragraphs. Social networking is a web-based service that allows individuals to contract a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Fifteen years ago social networking did not even exist. The first social networking site,, launched in 1997 and was the first to combine the buddy lists that AIM and ICQ featured with the ability to create profiles (that major dating sites used). By the year 2000, SixDegrees was out of business as early adopters found there was not much that could be done once friend requests were accepted. Between 1997 and 2001, a number of community tools experimented with various combinations of profiles and public friend lists including AsianAvenue, LiveJournal and LunarStorm (2007). The next wave of social networking came in the early to mid 2000’s with the introduction of LinkedIn, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube, and the most well known of today’s sites, Facebook, in 2005 (see “Appendix A” for timeline). LinkedIn has always been a business focused site, allowing potential employees and employers to connect. Other social media sites were initially intended for personal use; however, this is rapidly changing. Social networking has continued to grow exponentially since 2005 (with Facebook leading the way) and is now a mainstream web-based activity. Taking into consideration the four most popular social media sites currently being used for both personal and business purposes, the statistics are staggering. Facebook has 750 million active users; Twitter has 200 million users, YouTube 490 million and LinkedIn 100 million. Social networks and blogs are now the fourth-most popular online activity (ahead of personal email). Over the past two years, use of social networking has grown to 24% of the time spent at work (Trend Micro 2010); therefore, how we choose to connect at home needs to be reflected in our work environments (Nielsen Online, 2010). Social Networking in the workplace has proven to have a positive effect on communication, recruiting and retention, marketing and business collaboration; with firms boasting elevated levels of productivity and profits due to high employee engagement and satisfaction. Social media is changing the game for how we engage. Social networking sites can keep professionals and business people current on events, trends and opportunities in ways traditional communication cannot, and today’s organizations and business leaders are being asked to do more and communicate more than ever before. In fact, 79% of the largest Fortune 500 firms use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or corporate blogs to communicate with customers and other stakeholders (Burson-Marsteller, 2009). Firms that communicate effectively are four times more likely than their peers to report high levels of employee...
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