Social networks, online services that help prople and organization form connection and share information, have become a major force in bth internal and external business communication in recent year. In addition to Facebook, a vriety of public and private social networks are used by businesses and professionals. They can be grouped into there categories:
- Public, general-purpose Facebook is the largest such network, although Google+ is gaining membership rapidly and is attracting many companies and brands. Additionally, regionaly focused network have significant user bases in some countries, such as China’s Renren and Kaixin001.10
- Public, specialized networks. Whereas Facebook and Google+ serve a wide of personal and professional needs, other networks focus on a prticular function or a particular audince. The most widely known of these is LinkedIn, with on career and sales-related networking. Other network adrees the needs of enterpreneurs, small business owners, specific professions, product enthusiasts, and other narrower audiences.
- Private networks. Some companies have built private social networks for internal use. For example, the defense contractor Lockheed Martin created its Unity network, complete with a variety of social media employees accustomed to social media and capture the expert knowldge of older employee nearing retirement. 11
Ragardlesss of the purpose and audience, social networks are most beneficial when all participants give and receive information, advice, spport, and introductions—just as in offline social interaction. The following two sections describe how social network are used in business communication and offer advice on using these platforms successfully.
Business Communication Uses of Social Networks
With their ability to reach virtually unlimited numbers of people through a variety of electronic formats, social networks are a great fit for many business communication needs. Here are some of the key applications of social networks for internal and external business communication:
- Integrating company workforces. Just as public networks can bring friends and family together, internal social networks can help companiesgrow closer, including helping new employees navigate their waythrough the organization, finding experts, mentors, and other important contacts; encouraging workforces to “jell” after reorganizations or mergers; and overcoming strural barriers in communication channels, bypassing the formal communication system to deliver information where it is needed i a timey fashion.
- Fostering collaboration. Networks can play a major role in collaboration by identifying the best peope, both inside the company and in other companies, to collaborate on projects; finfing pockets of knowledge and expertise within the organiztion; giving meeting or seminar participants a way to meet before an event and to maintain relationships after an event; accelerating the develpoment of teams by helping members get to know on another and to identify individual areas of expertise; and sharing information throughout the organization. The information technology company EMC estimates that its internal social network has cu costs by more than $40 million by heling employees use company resources more effectively and reducing the need to hire outside contractos.12
- Building communities. Social networks are a natural tool for bringing together communities of practice, people who engage in similar work,and communities of interest, people who share enthusiasm for a particular product or activity. Large and geographically disperesed compaies can benefit greatly from communities of practice that connect experts whomay work in different divission or different countries. Communities of of interest that from around a specific product are sometimes called brand cmmunities, and nuturing these communities can be a vital business communication task. A majority of consumers now trust their peers more tan any other source of product information, so farmal and informal brand communities are becoming an essential information source in consumer buying decisions.13 Increasingly, these community building efforts include some aspect of gamification, which is the addition of game-playing aspects such as Foursquare’s “check-in” competitions or location-based social networking, which links the virtual world of online social networking with th physical word of retail stories and other locations. As mobile web important business communication medium because mobile consumers are a significant economicforce-through the purchase they mak directly and through their ability influence other consumers.15
- Socializing brands and companies. According to one recent survey of company executives, socialixation now accounts for more than half of a company or brand’s global reputtion.16 Brad socialization is a measure of how effectively a company engages with its various online stakeholders in mutually beneficial exchange of information. Social networks and related tools such as Twitte are the primary means of socializing compinies and brands. To be successful, the company. For example, comparing posts from General Motors, Toyota, and Ford suggests that brand socialization plays a significant role in the widely varying degrees of enggement these three companies have Facebook. Many of Ford,s posts focus on its history (including classic Ford cas and company’s efforts to supply the military in past wars) and its invilvement in auto racing, topics of likely interest to car events, such as results from company-sponsored contests (includinga video comprtition for college students). GM’s Facebook posts highlight community involvement as well, but tend to emphasize such company-focused items as monthly sales reults, new products, and executive profiles. The fact that Toyota has three times as many facebook fans as General Motors, and Ford has five times more than GM (as of mid-2012) is probably not a coincidence.17
- Understanding target markets. With hundreds of millions of people expressing them-selves via social media, you can be sure that smart companies are listening. When asked about the value of having 33 million Facebook fans, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent replied, “the value is you can talk with them. They tell you things that are important for your business and brand.”18 In addition, a number of tools now exist to gather market intelligence from social more or less automatically. For example, sentiment analysis is an intriguing research technique in which companies track social networks and other media with automated language-analaysis software that tries to take the pulse of public opinion and identify influential opinion markers.19
- Recuiting employees and business partners. Companies use social networks to find potential employees, short-term contractors, subject-mater, product and service suppliers and business partner. A key adventage here is that these introductons are made via trusted connections in a professional network. On linkedIn, For example, members can recommend each other based on current or past business relationship, which helps remove the uncertainty of initiating business relationship with complete strangers.
- Connecting with salesprospects. Salespeople on network such as LinkedIn can use their network connections to identify potential buyers and then to ask for introductions through those shared connections. Sales networking can reduce cold calling, telephoning potential customers out of the blue–a practice that few people on either end of the conversation find pleasent.
- Supporting Customer service is another one of the fundamental areas of business communication that have been revoltionized by social media. Social customer service involves using social networks and other social media tools to give from the company and to help each other.
- Extending the organization. Social networking is also fueling the growth of networked organizations, sometimes known as virtual organizations, where companies supplement the talents of their employees with services from one or more external partners, such as a design lab, a manufacturing firm, or a sale and distributions company.