• 01/06/2012
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Why Your Business Can't Ignore Social Networking

Organizations are skittish about security and productivity, but social media's benefits are hard to discount. Be social--or be left behind.
10 Smart Enterprise Uses For Twitter
10 Smart Enterprise Uses For Twitter
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The benefits of social networking for business are becoming more clear, but so, too, are the risks. With that said, it's no longer possible for businesses to hide their heads in the sand and hope social just goes away, say experts.

Indeed, said Phil Robinson, director of relationship marketing for, at this point ignoring social is like ignoring online would have been a decade ago.

"It can now be said that a successful enterprise has to be social," said Robinson. "A very real and inexorable shift is occurring, and that change is moving the primary focus of online consumers away from search and toward networking. This shift is not restricted only to online transactions, but online activity of any kind. It's no longer about finding what I want, it's about being able to interact with who I care about. This is how social networking is quickly becoming essential for any business. People now expect a two-way street online, where for so long, it was all one way. ... People expect to be able to say something back, and they are certainly doing so."

That expectation for conversation is one of the chief reasons why companies need to be thinking about developing a social presence if they haven't already, said Stephanie Ciccarelli, chief marketing officer at "Businesses need to have a presence and to engage with their customers online both proactively and responsively," she said. "Being part of the conversation shows that a company is aware of the conversation, is validating the conversation through participation, and that it cares. ... It is actually riskier to not have a presence and to let conversations go on without you."

[ Learn How Social Media Changes Technical Communication. ]

Companies that have not ventured into social waters, either internally or externally, typically name fears about security and productivity as their main reasons for holding back. And these fears are well-founded, said Nick Arvanitis, principal security consultant at IT services provider Dimension Data Americas.

"While there are numerous benefits to social media, any astute CSO or CIO will be quick to mention that there are serious risks," said Arvanitis. "For instance, social engineering attacks, one of the oldest and most difficult attacks to protect against, rely on trust and personal information. People provide all sorts of personal information on social media and sometimes even connect with a hacker unknowingly, granting them access to their interests, preferences, activities, friends, etc. Social media is a goldmine for hackers. If one is able to exploit one individual in a company, they will likely be able to infiltrate the company itself. Humans have always been the weakest link when it comes to security, and this hasn't changed. Additionally, malware today can be found in posts on Facebook, links on Twitter, or embedded in third-party applications."

Just as with any new computing shift, risk must be measured against reward, and tools for mitigating risk must be considered.

"In the end, each company must look at what is best for their unique situation," said Arvanitis. "Companies must weigh their risk profile against the relevant security policy and risk assessment, as well as the benefits they could realize from social media. Factors that will affect a company's approach to social media include the size of the company, whether it is privately or publicly owned, what industry the business is in, compliance standards, and more."

While the benefits of using external social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ may be increasingly clear and difficult to ignore, the use of internal social networking platforms and tools can be more difficult to justify. Platforms such as IBM Connections and Chatter enable companies to achieve more productive collaboration and increased agility, but, depending on the organization, they often require huge cultural shifts and can cause integration and regulatory compliance issues.

With any implementation of social applications, tools or processes, it's important for companies to first determine what they want to achieve and to develop some kind of metrics for success. But to ignore social altogether may be the biggest risk of all, say experts.

"There is no doubt that the online landscape has transitioned into a social world," said's Robinson. "And there is no doubt that businesses need to adapt to that social environment or be left behind.

The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services, and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. It happens March 25-29 in Orlando, Fla. Find out more.


re: Why Your Business Can't Ignore Social Networking

The author is correct in noting that internal social networking projects have struggled. All too often, internal social networking projects are launched on a "provide & pray" basis with two problematic assumptions...

- The availability of social collaboration tools naturally leads to increased collaboration.

- The collaboration occurring via these new social collaboration tools will be around topics of value to the business.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case and the usual result is limited user adoption and "chatter" that is of little to no value to the business. For internal social networking deployments to be a success they require the following three key elements:

1. An identified business problem that benefits from social collaboration and drives a measurable ROI.

2. Executive sponsorship to lead by example and support the necessary cultural shift.

3. A flexible social collaboration solution that integrates into existing processes and provides tools for keeping conversations on topic and ROI measurement.

Early wins using these keys will open the door wide for social to spread throughout the organization and significantly diminish any resistance to change that may stand in its path.

David Wachter | CMO @Hivemine

re: Why Your Business Can't Ignore Social Networking

Thanks, David. I totally agree that companies that just throw social against the wall to see if it will stick won't see results (or, at least not positive results). As with anything, and as you say, there has to be an identified business goal that can be measured, and with social there usually has to be a pretty significant change in culture.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: Why Your Business Can't Ignore Social Networking

Excellent article, and right on the money. Two things I've noticed thus far, consulting with our clients regarding social media:

1. To borrow from and paraphrase Metcalfe's Law and apply it here: The value of a network increases exponentially as the number of users increases. Internal social networks are therefore greatly hampered by their limited scope. While there are always exceptions to every rule, in general they usually just die on the vine for SMBs.

2. Social Media marketing on the public networks (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) requires a long-term commitment. Much like traditional marketing, social media marketing is something you do, not something you try. Too many SMBs toss up a basic Facebook page, post a few comments, and then declare it "too much effort for no gain." But social media marketing is really about building loyalty, building reputation, and engaging customers over the long haul. SMBs need to understand that they need to take the long-haul view and make a commitment, because as you said -- it's not going away. The people saying "it's too much work" are the same sort of people who said, 10 years ago, "...what do I need a website for?"

Eric Robichaud

re: Why Your Business Can't Ignore Social Networking

Thanks, Eric. I, too, keep coming back to that parallel with websites back in the early days. I think a lot of companies waited for the Web "fad" to go away, only to find themselves seriously behind the 8 ball when it didn't. I think the same will be true with social networking for business, both internally and externally.

Deb Donston-Miller
The BrainYard

re: Why Your Business Can't Ignore Social Networking

The question is not whether social will become a fundamental part of a company's internal operations, communications and collaborations, but rather how enterprises will embrace social networking as a way to not only stay competitive but differentiate in the areas of teamwork, career, employee mobility, and retention.