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February 25, 2021, 10:47:27 am
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Author Topic: Businesses Befriending Facebook  (Read 929 times)
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« on: March 19, 2009, 06:45:02 pm »


As more adults start using social networking Web sites, businesses are finding new uses for them.
By Michael Doan, Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter

Online social networks are capturing the attention of companies. Large and small, businesses are finding uses for Facebook, LinkedIn and the like, but plenty of headaches as well.

Once limited mainly to teen-agers, these networks are catching on fast with an older crowd. Their use by adults with Internet access grew from 8% in 2005 to 35% in 2008, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Increasingly, it's Mom and Dad using social networking pages to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances and to reconnect with long-lost classmates and others. Now, like personal e-mail, online shopping and games, social networking is migrating from home to the workplace.

On the plus side, such networks make it easier to share ideas among employees, colleagues and contractors, to keep in touch with business contacts and to establish new customers. They're handy tools for making new sales contacts, recruiting future employees and raising a company's profile -- spreading the word through electronic "word of mouth."

Some firms are even trying them out as an in-house communications mechanism. Facebook's newsfeeds -- postings by individual members or groups -- are a convenient way to seek simultaneous input from multiple people and to keep track of employees' progress, eliminating long strings of e-mail. "They let you broadcast what you are working on and allow colleagues to react to it," says Andrew McAfee, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Like any new technology, however, it can take some getting used to. Serena Software of Redwood City, Calif., eased its way into using Facebook as an intra-office system with "Facebook Fridays," in which all communications were done one day a week with social networking to ease into the process. One manager brought his 16-year-old son to work to give lessons on how to use it. What is it used for? "If I have a meeting scheduled with the CEO, I can see what else he is doing today, such as preparing for a board meeting," says Kyle Arteaga, a Serena vice president (for corporate communications). Another company, a publisher, intends to use Facebook to circulate proposed illustrations among its editorial staff for comments and to make it easy for other staff members to know when colleagues are out of the office.

On the downside, there are some concerns: Damaging content posted, whether deliberately or inadvertently. Some companies worry about corporate secrets slipping out. Criticisms posted by employees on their personal sites can hurt a firm's public reputation and even potentially become the fodder of lawsuits. Excessive personal use can lower productivity and tie up valuable computer resources, though most managers concede that personal e-mail and online shopping already carry that risk. And privacy issues can be a problem, especially if supervisors add employees as "friends" and vice versa. Although networking software allows users to control which friends get to see which content, an incorrectly set option could give the boss a view of that wild bachelor party or allow an employee in on a supervisor's private rant.

Having a company policy about social networking sites can help prevent problems down the road. Right now, most companies have no restrictions at all, but as social networking grows, more will adopt them. Some firms install software that prevents employees from accessing social networks at all. "I think that is silly," says Philip Gordon of Littler Mendelson, labor and employment law firm. "Everybody from the mailroom clerk to the CEO uses the PC for nonbusiness purposes, anyway." Consider having employees use separate pages or accounts for personal and business pages. Or conduct business discussions in a Facebook or other network group that is limited to employees.

Gordon also suggests asking workers to carefully discuss with a supervisor any statement on a blog or social networking site that could have an impact on the company name. They should be advised to be careful not to defame others. And Serena Software's Arteaga has this simple advice for employees: "Don't post anything you wouldn't send by e-mail to everyone in the company."

Trust but verify
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