Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Social Networking for SMB's

John Dvorak's recent column on The Fragility of Social Networking got me thinking about the value of this technology in the workplace.

As I understand the article, Dvorak maintains there is lack of substance to social networking communities like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn. He doesn't really see them as communities. Unless you have real connections to the people you befriend online or link to, there is little to no value in it and the network in and of itself is built on shaky ground.

I have to agree, but only to a certain extent.

There has to be an intent behind befriending others online or linking to the online networks of other professionals. Linking for the sake of linking doesn't really get you anywhere. The only thing you prove is that you have more "friends" than the other person.

Recently I have been wondering how social networking tools like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn can be used in small to medium-sized businesses (SMB). It could be the poor man's way of building an online corporate directory facilitating collaboration and communication between individuals. Please note that when I say SMB, I am speaking of businesses with 100-500 employees.

Most of these tools could be used by employees to create profiles of themselves. If an employee or a team needs someone with expertise on a given topic, go to Facebook or LinkedIn and search for the employee in the network with that knowledge. Go one step further - use instant messaging programs from Yahoo, MSN or Skype for quick communications and messaging.

All of the tools mentioned above are used with a purpose in mind - to foster collaboration, communication and build better teams. This, in my opinion, makes these tools far more valuable than how they are widely used.

Mind you, because these tools are public and not as secure as something that could be deployed behind a network firewall there will have to be some policies put in place such as nondisclosure of trade secrets or personal, identifiable information. People in charge of network security and guarding corporate information should weigh the risks against the benefits.

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