By Bill Rosenthal, CEO, Communispond Inc.
Successful managers use every opportunity to communicate with everyone who helps them meet their goals—up and down the organization chart and across the supply chain. Whenever possible, they leave the comfort of the office to interact with people face-to-face. But when it isn’t, they rely heavily on “virtual communication” tools such as the phone and, more recently, Internet-based tools such as Skype, Web conferencing, and others. The use of social networking has grown extensively in the last year. In today’s digital and geographically disperse business environment, a manager can’t be successful without it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking social networking is all about telling the world what you had for breakfast. Or only an obsession of geeks. Just the opposite: Social networking has reached a tipping point. It’s transforming the way managers gather information, inform, negotiate, motivate, inspire, instruct, empower, forecast, and sell. It lets managers be here, there, and everywhere, with individuals or groups, 24/7, and at little or no cost.
Social networking now accounts for 22 percent of all the time Americans spend on the Internet. Four out of five desktop users socialize online—and 9 out of 20 mobile users do. During the 2.7 hours per day users spend on the mobile Web, 45 percent are posting comments on networking sites, 43 percent are connecting with others, and 40 percent are sharing content. One-fourth of all Internet page views take place at a networking site.
Facebook now has 600 million active users and 135 million unique U.S. visitors monthly. Half the users spend at least one hour daily on the site. It’s been estimated that 42 percent of the U.S. population has a Facebook account. (In Canada the figure is close to 75 percent). The fastest-growing demographic among the users is people over 40. Among the active users are company leaders such as Sam Palmisano of IBM, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Steve Balmer of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs of Apple.
Twitter—launched only in July 2006—now has 200 million users, or 8 percent of adult Internet users, and they tweet about 40 million times a day. Some 100 million people are registered with LinkedIn, which has 21 million monthly users in the U.S. and 48 million globally. Bill George, professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, calls social networking the most significant business development of 2010, more important than even the resurgence of the U.S. automobile industry. Social media’s growth contributed to an 8 percent decline in cell phone use last year, according to Internet market research firm comScore.
This article describes the three social networking channels today’s managers must master and some others that are likely to become essential in the future. It then lists 14 principles for using these technologies to maximum advantage.
Channels You Must Master
Facebook: Facebook allows you to make a profile that serves as a richly detailed capabilities statement and official biography, and choose who can see which parts of it. You can list your connections, or “friends”; exchange instant messages with them, privately or publicly; and get automatic notifications when they update their profiles. You can upload photos and album albums, in unlimited numbers. You also can join common interest groups, organized by workplace or other subdivisions. Many new smartphones offer access to Facebook services through their Web browsers or apps.
Most people think primarily of Facebook as a tool for keeping in touch with personal friends and notating details of your personal life, with business uses playing a far secondary role. While this is true for many users, there is no reason Facebook can’t play a much larger role in your business life. You needn’t share all the personal details of your life. Instead, you can create a profile that focuses on your professional connections, interactions, accomplishments, etc., and share them with others in your professional network.
Keep looking for new capabilities because Facebook is continually reinventing itself. To quote Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr, the video and image hosting Website, “Facebook keeps becoming something new. Twitter gets popular, so Facebook becomes more like Twitter. People get obsessed with checking in on Foursquare, so Facebook adds Places,” which identifies users’ locations in real-time. Because the security of user accounts has been compromised several times, however, there is some concern among users about safety.
A competing platform, MySpace, offers fewer customization opportunities and, unlike Facebook, allows users to mask their identity. For these reasons and others, Facebook rapidly is gaining favor over MySpace.
Bottom line, Facebook is getting “big” very quickly and, like it or not, you probably are going to be using it in some part of your business life sooner or later. That being the case, now it the time to start exploring and developing competency with Facebook.
Blogging and Microblogging: A blogis an online diary that’s maintained by a person or organization and is updated continually, usually with the most recent post appearing on top. Readers can leave comments and message each other. The blog can contain text, images, and links to other blogs and Webpages. Unless readers are using an RSS feed, they won’t be aware of new posts without checking the blog manually. Bloggers usually aren’t aware of who’s reading their posts.
Approximately 22 percent of Fortune 500 companies have an active corporate blog. Starbucks, GE, and Patagonia blogs are among those that have a wide following and are models worth emulating for their creativity and high level of reader involvement. It’s said that Bill Marriott of Marriott actually writes his own blog.
A microblogsuch as Twitter allows no more than 140 characters per “tweet.” You choose your Twitter audience members, or followers, and they can invite you to be theirs. Microblogging has become a valuable tool for collaborative work within organizations. The downside: Employees can quickly and easily spread confidential information.
Microblog authors can send and receive tweets via the Twitter Website or on a single device via SMS or use external applications. You can install Twitter clients on your mobile phone and add Twitter apps to your Facebook profile. Because Twitter makes its code available to outside developers, hundreds of tools have become available. Examples: TweetDeck allows you to sort tweets into direct messages, topics, and keywords. With CoTweet, people from the same company can communicate through a single account. HootSuite lets you track and measure the effectiveness of your tweets, schedule tweets, and switch back and forth between accounts.
Services such as Lifestream and Profilactic aggregate microblogs from multiple social networks into a single list. Others such as Ping.fm send out microblogs to multiple networks. Facebook and LinkedIn also have their microblogging features.
Again, you can use a personal blog/micro-blog to talk about your most recent vacation or share your opinion of a recent movie. From a business perspective, though, you’ll do better sharing with others in your social network how your product or service recently solved a customer problem or details of a new product or service your company’s offering.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the major networking site for businesses. You can feel some level of comfort with the connections you make with it because they’re linked to your other connections and to those connections’ connections. You can invite anyone to be a connection, whether they’re a LinkedIn site user or not.
Need an introduction to a prospective customer? Someone you want to recruit? A company you can create an alliance with? An information source? A prospective employer? Find those persons on LinkedIn; get background on them, including their photos, from their profiles; and ask someone you’re both connected with to introduce you. You continually can expand your list of connections by checking out the Website’s “people you may know“ feature.
The LinkedIn Answers feature allows you to ask questions, the way you might at Yahoo! Answers. The difference here is the topics are business-oriented and the identities of the people who ask or answer questions are known. The searchable LinkedinGroups feature allows you to join alumni, professional, or other groups.
LinkedIn has become an indispensable job-search tool—and not only for its job listings. You can keep up on the doings of prospective employers and learn such things as their ratio of male to female employees, the percentage of the most common job titles, and names of present or former employees.
LinkedIn’s chief competitors are Viadeo, with 35 million users, and XING, with 10 million.
Apart from the three essential channels/technologies, there’s a wide range of additional social networking solutions managers can use. Here are brief descriptions of some of them:
Deliciousis a social bookmarking service for storing, sharing, and finding Web bookmarks. Its owner, Yahoo!, is seeking buyers for it but will maintain the service in the meantime. Diggallows you to find and share Internet content and submit questions to experts. Stumbleuponis an Internet community for finding and rating Webpages. Wikisoftware lets you to run a Website where users collaboratively create and edit Webpages using a Web browser. Wikipedia,widely known as an online encyclopedia, is actually a social medium because it can allow a manager who is knowledgeable about an issue to reframe it by editing its entry. YouTube,the free video sharing Website, can let you post employee training modules, product demonstrations, customer testimonials, etc., which you then can promote with other networking media.
14 Principles for Effective Networking
Bill Rosenthal is CEO of Communispond Inc., which offers individual communication coaching for professional development or critical public events, communication programs, and comprehensive reinforcement. For more information, visit www.communispond.com.