Most of us think of the web as a place where we can extend our bricks-and-mortar business. Independent News & Media, the owner of the newspaper you are reading, has demonstrated how a core media business can diversify into other spheres of commerce – see www.nicarfinder.co.uk for just one example.
Occasionally, though, a business will come along to prove that there’s no need to have a presence in the ‘real’ world. For example, Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk) still has no High Street shops. Ebay (www.ebay.co.uk) is the same. Ditto Facebook (www.face|book.com) and YouTube (www.youtube.com).
All the above businesses (with the possible exception of Amazon) are designed solely for the web, and could not operate in any other way. All have huge audiences. Some of them could help your company or organisation, but too many of us in this part of the world think bricks-and-mortar first and internet second, if at all.
The problem has been outlined in stark detail by the research company Gartner (www.gartner.com). Its recent survey, conducted in 18 countries, identified a failure to engage with the phenomenon of social networking — even though it has the potential to increase savings and improve productivity.
So what kind of things can social networking help with?
Take the PR company Edelman (www.edelman.com). It recently revealed that it had managed to take 1% off its bottom line merely by using social networks as a recruitment tool. The recruits they managed to take on were a better ‘fit’ with the company, too.
Some firms have used social networking to replace email. After all, why would you send a message to someone not knowing if he or she is at a computer to receive it?
If the sender and recipient are both members of a social network such as Facebook (www.facebook.com), they can see instantly if the other one is online and get an instant reply.
Gartner’s own press agency uses Twitter (http://twitter.com) and FriendFeed (http://friendfeed.com) to find people quickly in a company that has offices worldwide. If it needs someone to talk to a newspaper reporter, for example, Twitter is often a much more effective method than the telephone — especially outside office hours, given the range of time zones the company operates across.
There’s a downloadable document on several other aspects of how businesses can use the networks and even create some of their own. See it here: www.enthusiastgroup.com/files/social_com|pany.pdf.
Many people reading this will make the assumption that they are simply not the right age for social networks.
But your employees probably are — and are likely to know stuff that you would never dream of, such as how to use them most effectively. As for the well-publicised security issues surrounding the networks, let a security expert put your mind at rest: http://tinyurl.com/5hqs4w.
There’s also the question of time-wasting when employees are allowed to use social networking during office hours. A survey carried out in the US last week discovered that a quarter of American companies deny their employees access to the networks for that very reason.
But you don’t have to allow staff to chat with friends on Facebook in order to take advantage of social networking. There are business networks like LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) and Ryze (www.ryze.com).
A recent business start-up called HiveLive (www.hivelive.com) even enables you to create your own network, based on the structural principles of a beehive.
All I’m saying here is: think laterally, and with the web in mind. I’ll leave you with a final example.
If you need colleagues in another office to get a feel for a new ad or corporate video, don’t run off DVD copies and deliver them — post the footage on YouTube (www.youtube.com).
Like virtually every other business application you can think of on social networks, it’s free.
Bill Law has over 30 years’ experience in IT and currently works as a consultant in the industry. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.