Companies are frequently looking for sources of competitive advantage that can drive their revenue upwards. One way in which this can be achieved is through social networking as the latter phenomenon can offer them ways of simplifying their business models while at the same time connect them with their stakeholders and thus transform their entire business outlook.
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Business collaboration is changing
The current business environment has changed tremendously. First of all, organisations are taking on more global dimensions; they are sourcing their raw materials, suppliers, trading partners or other business processes from different parts of the world. Such collaboration creates different needs for businesses. For instance, they are creating a scenario in which the concerned parties have to be available twenty-four hours a day and they are also increasing the need to enhance efficiency as competition is no longer restricted by geography. In other words, all the challenges and opportunities brought on by globalisation are becoming a reality to most companies. This presents IT stakeholders with unique opportunities to serve these new needs. (Sweney, 2007)
Many businesses are now changing their organisational models. It is no longer enough to work in isolation and hope for the best as no business can survive on its own. Instead, different aspects of the supply chain are merging so as to create the most effective business collaboration networks. In fact, nowadays, competition is based on the most effective collaboration networks and not the most effective companies. Companies are now specialising in what they do best and then outsourcing other business functions to other companies who are also experts in those functions. In the end, these networks are able to offer consumers the best value for their money. The latter system creates a serious need for information management systems that can handle these varying organisational models.
The level of complexity in organisations is changing tremendously. These days, it is possible to find so many different parts of an organisation with unique needs and tasks. More often than not, it may be possible to find that the information systems in these instances have to be adjusted accordingly to the needs prevalent there. For example, business to business process management is more necessary than single enterprise knowledge management. IT systems need to be such that they can simplify all these processes between businesses such that integration is facilitated in the most effective ways possible. (Fost, Moreno, & Chrotsiakis, 2005)
Restrictions in business technologies are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Nowadays, agility and responsiveness are critical aspects in organisations and these cannot be delivered if there are too many rules imposed within a company system. There is therefore a need for a change in the mindsets of both business personnel as well as IT experts who must provide businesses with adequate control of their databases. Collaboration between these two groups is therefore taking on a new dimension because now companies need to think of IT personnel as partners rather than mere service providers. These two kinds of stakeholders need not engage in blame games as they all contribute towards business performance.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect about the new face of business collaboration is the unconventional way in which ideas are generated. In the past, it was assumed that the corporate arena would try out a new system and then this would be transferred into the consumer world. Nowadays businesses are borrowing from the consumer world and customising those systems. For instance, the idea of social networking was thought to be an element distinct to social aspects of life but this role is changing fast as it has been established that there are numerous advantages that can come with such a phenomenon.
Overview of social networks
In simple terms, social networks can be defined as online aggregates of individuals who are looking to share information with others through people’s opinions and experiences. It is done through social networking websites that allow members to link up with one another based on similar interests, goals or ideas. Traditional websites are those ones that allow various individuals to link with others irrespective of their geography, interests or any other traits.
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On the other hand, there are social networking websites for academic purposes while others have been established for professional purposes alone. Usually, users are expected to create profiles of themselves where one can give general information and then follow this up with personal photos. These social networks may either be generic i.e. where the general public can be invited by an existing member or they could be specialised where membership is restricted to a certain society, institution, company or community of people. Both social networks allow individuals to form new associations. (Andrews, 2009)
Social networks are becoming increasingly popular and this is revitalising their use. Now social networks have gained wide application in the business arena. They are now used for recruitment purposes, to let consumers about a certain brand, intercept certain competitors, establish new technologies and for building online management tools. Aside from that, it has also been shown that this social networking is quite useful in the scientific community as it contributes towards knowledge sharing. Also, in the teaching profession, educators are extending classroom discussions into these websites and the sky is simply the limit for what can be achieved here.
Social networking has brought with it numerous benefits as it allows various individuals to access information. It also facilitates diversity as it opens up different individuals to different kinds of people. On top of that it provides people with a platform for getting support, promoting products and allowing people to advocate for social good by discussion matters affecting the globe.
The most common social networks are those ones that are designed to reunite old colleagues or friends and classmates. Different parts of the world have embraced different services depending on what works for them. For example, in Asia, social networking services such as Mixi, Orkut and Cyworld are common. In Europe, some services such as Xing and Tagged are more common. In North America and many parts of the world, the most influential social networking websites are Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. (Cotriss, 2008)
Although social networks have changed people’s lives for the better, there have also been some major problems associated with their use. For instance, concerns have been raised over privacy breaches as there is no way to fully ensure that an individual is who he /she claims to be. This is especially dangerous when identity theft occurs. On top of that, some researchers may opt to use personal information collected from these social networking services and thus breach privacy laws.
The networks also place children and other people at danger of sexual predation as there is too much personal information that can be displayed there. Besides these, one’s computers are often put at risk because social networking can cause virus or other computer infections to enter one’s machine. Nonetheless, these problems have been branded by many as a necessary evil that must be tolerated.
Business value of social networks
Businesses can access numerous benefits that can improve their performance as well as their capability. First of all, in instances where a business is planning to introduce a new product, it may start a discussion on the usability or need for the product and thus get valuable first hand information about the potential market for their products. Besides this, social networking allows business to profile their consumers so as to know the kind of products or services that they like.
For instance, if a business offers a variety of products, it can learn a customer’s preferences by social networking with them and this can go a long way in boosting their service offerings. In the end, such companies may heighten their competitive advantage and become forces that can be reckoned with. In this regard, organisations can also defend themselves in instances where consumers give them negative reviews. This allows businesses to defend their reputation and thus preserve the valuable consumer bases that they may have garnered. (Hiltz & Murray, 2008)
The very concept of social networking is borrowed from personal networking. The latter phenomenon has assisted several people in the past to secure valuable business contacts that actually offer them jobs. Similarly, online social networking does the same as well. A survey carried out a few years ago found that fifty-six percent of all employed personnel usually secured their jobs through personal connections with persons that they rarely came in contact with i.e. persons that they met for less than twice a week. It was also found that twenty-seven of the participants got their jobs through connections from people that they contacted only once a year.
Therefore, referrals are an important aspect of the employment process and can therefore go a long way in securing the right employees for a certain organisation. Research has further shown that those individuals recruited through referrals tend to perform better than those who entered individually. Therefore, since social networking enhances the amount of connections and referrals, then chances are that they can assist businesses to get the right personnel for their organisation. (Fost, Moreno, & Chrotsiakis, 2005)
Statistics released during the year 2006 on Fortune five companies found that a whooping ninety-one percent of the top organisations were characterised by effective communication systems. In order to ensure good shareholder returns, businesses must constantly think of ways of engaging their employees. Social networks provide them with this avenue and are therefore likely to boost their performance and efficiency.
Social networking tends to engage the consumer and makes them feel valued as essential components of a business process. This is especially important in service based industries. A case in point was Digg – a technology news website. The latter company enjoyed a competitive advantage because of tapping into the benefits of social networking. This business allowed its respective consumers to contribute technology news stories and then permitted members to rate them. The stories that had the highest ratings were featured on the website. In the end, consumers felt engaged with the business as they directly contributed towards content there. The same thing can be done by other product based businesses by seeking opinions from consumers at any one time.
Advertisements are a crucial part of any business’ operations. It is therefore essential to look for new and cost effective ways of making such advertisements. Social networks have been used by a series of companies to place banners and other ad types so that they can expand their consumer base.
The company chosen for analysis is IBM. This institution epitomises the benefits that arise out of social networking as they took on this new concept with minimal hesitation; from employee reviews on assistance from experts to the sharing of website resources and information storage. All these aspects denote the business value that the company has been able to garner though such an initiative. Social networking is quite necessary for the company because close to forty percent of them work from outside the company’s premises or within their homes.
Analysts have sought to find out why this company was quick to realise the benefits of social networking yet some of its other competitors have placed it on the periphery. It was found out that this company instated a code of conduct that would instil discipline and respect for their systems. These guidelines ensure that the firm can guard against legal liability, harassment or other non issues that may tamper with the effectiveness of social networking. On top of the use of guidelines, the company requires all participants in its social networks to be fully identified and there are few incidences of quarrels or disagreements online as is the case with the other competitors. (IBM, 2009)
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This company has created a range of social networking products designed to boost its efficiency, productivity and profitability. For instance, it has created the web 2.0 feature which allows users to generate content. This places them on a level playing field as company officials or other IT experts. On top of that it has ‘Blue Pages’ which provides staff members with opportunities to tag certain stories and then it can allow tracing of the tagged individuals so that similar stories can be found. In fact, there are about four hundred thousand employees who are connected through Blue pages. Staff members can use this social network to personalise their profile and include their CVs. Clients may also communicate with employees so that they can get the most of their overall experiences. (Bulkeley, 2009).
IBM also uses Avatar which is another social networking tool used to assist employees and consumers to link up if they have distant locations. Usually, when there is a meeting or conference and an IBM party cannot attend it, Avatar becomes useful in viewing the lectures as well as video conferencing with the attendees. Therefore, services can still be offered even when IBM representatives are not present physically. The latter method has been useful in orienting new employees located in distant parts of the world like China.
The ‘Wiki’ is another important IBM social networking tool. The latter is used by company members to write details about a project and other team members have the opportunity to either delete or edit it depending on what they feel. These wikis are managed through the use of ‘wiki central’ where these different networks are combined. Therefore, members of a team may keep updates on the overall level of a project and thus communicate with administrators effectively. This company also possesses a ‘caught mapping’ feature in which members can tell where others are located so as to know how to collaborate with them.
Overly, it can be said that this company has spearheaded the push for social networking software and therefore been able to garner its business value. One way in which it has been able to achieve this is through frequent reviews from either consumers or employees. It has also moved control from IBM administrators to other stakeholders within their system. Nonetheless, it has not compromised the security of its members by instating a tangible code of conduct. The company has also made some money through the sale of social networking software. (Hamm, 2008)
While social networking is currently shifting to the centre of business functions, it is yet to fully get therefore. In the future, it is likely that this concept will be invaluable to business processes. For example, if certain people have arranged a meeting, an attendee may use social networking to obtain information about the name, picture and resume information of other members. But before reaching there, social networking service providers must bridge current gaps in their systems.
Most applications based browser networks frequently limit consumers from engaging in mobile networking. Handset limitations also make it difficult for the latter function to be achieved. In the future it is likely to find that social networking websites will have dealt with these inefficiencies and thus propagated a high level of cooperation between various groups.
If social networking is transferred to mobile devices, then chances are that meetings may become more powerful. This can be achieved if GPS technology is merged with the former concept. In other words, prior to meeting someone in a social location, someone who may have forgotten about the individual may get a chance of finding some basic information about that person and thus establish a better union.
The Iphone provides social networking websites with unique opportunities as it can allow one to first meet an individual then add him in his or her social network. This can be backed up by following up on what the person is up to through their GPS locations. All in all, it can be said that social networking in the future is likely to be tied to real time locations as one may know where another individual may be.
Social networking may possibly revolutionise the way users engage with applications. This is because these social networks will make people’s identities less discrete and it will therefore be possible for one’s preferences to be assessed before commencement of the use of a certain application. In the end, this will transform the way information is utilised in the future. The filtering process of unnecessary data will be much easier to do then than now. (Joffe, 2007)
Businesses are likely to be less sceptical about the use of social networking in their business models because it may have brought on so many benefits to their competitors that it can no longer be kept on the periphery. In other words, it is likely that different businesses will be able to enjoy small scale leads to long term information, they will also be able to access focus groups instantly and it may also be able to train and tutor different employees through this phenomenon. There will be more expressiveness and connectedness between various organisations as more and more people will be able to express themselves. Also, there may be a greater sense of community between businesses and their consumers. Information will be easily reachable even if email or other business communications are down. (Hiltz & Murray, 2008)
Social network is a concept that scarcely existed ten years ago but its importance can no longer be ignored. Business information systems can be made more efficient by improving communication between employees as well as consumers. Companies have also become more marketable through adverts and promotional elements. Lastly, social networking is an essential instrument of management and human resource. These elements make the phenomenon revolutionary in business.
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Fost, N. Moreno, T. & Chrotsiakis, D. (2005). Research in the myspace era. Journal of Paediatrics. 121(1): 161.