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Social Networking: Boon or Bane to Business

Social networking is a great tool to stay connected with family and friends and to find long lost classmates and former acquaintances. It can also be an excellent resource to organizations in a number of ways. First, it's a great way to keep your customers informed of all your latest products and services and to introduce yourself to potential clients or customers.

Brian W. Pascal
As we all know, the market potential for social networking is extensive and rapidly growing. Many organizations use social networking sites not only to advertise their services but to also identify and recruit candidates. It doesn't cost anything and it is a great way to "meet" potential candidates before any formal process or interview.

But social networking also poses some risks to both individuals and organizations. Some opponents of social networking see the potential for children to become exposed to sexual predators and others point to an increase of identify theft through social networking sites which has increased 240% in the last two years alone.

Businesses must be careful about the use of social networking both by their organization and by individual employees. According to Leanne Fisher and Lynn Thompson from the law firm Hicks Morley who recently made a presentation on this topic, there are a number of areas of concern. First is the case when employees make negative or damaging remarks about their employer on a social networking site. Employees do have a right to make whatever comments they want on their Facebook page. But there are limits. If this occurs at their place of work, sanctions can certainly be imposed. What if it happens on the employee's time off? The answer according to Fisher and Thompson is to warn employees in advance of the consequences of such actions and tell them that they could be subject to discipline if they persist.

Another concern is when employees are encouraged to promote the organization on social networking sites. This could lead to the employer being responsible for anything an employee says on a social networking site. This could also lead to employees claiming compensation if they do this work at home or “after hours”. The answer is to control the message by designating certain individuals as the social media contacts and ensuring that there are guidelines, oversight and accountability built into the process.

One final issue around social networking for business is how to deal with outsiders who post false, negative or misleading information on social network sites about the organization. The solution to this occurrence depends on the severity of the comments. The organization should develop a public affairs response and take a principled approach so that you can balance the need to correct the misinformation with the desire to punish the offender.

If used properly, social networking can be a boon to business. Remember that there are many pitfalls and craters with this medium that can cause a lot of trouble for organizations. A strong employee and organizational policy regarding the use of social networking could help you avoid these dangers and take advantage of the fastest growing phenomena in the virtual world.

The rapid growth of social networking sites is outpacing the development of rules, laws and unofficial etiquette regarding their usage. Businesses worldwide struggle with the decision of whether to allow access to any social networking sites in the office for fear of lost revenue from decreased worker productivity and potential security breaches.

As social networking sites grow, it becomes more important than ever for those posting on those sites to do so with care by being more cautious not to divulge information that might be harmful in your college hunt, job search efforts and professional networking capabilities.

In addition to individuals, companies also use social networking sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter to scope out and recruit candidates. In fact, you would be surprised at the number of organizations that maintain an active presence on social networking sites. We at IPM launched our Facebook page six months ago and we’re starting to see the benefits ourselves.

Social networking is not a simple case of Big Brother watching you, even though it has that potential. It is for the most part a tool of the times-to gather information, make connections and even protect interests, including your own.


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