Social Networking: A Safety Net in Recession

Last Updated Oct 30, 2008 10:02 AM EDT

Everyone needs friends during hard times. In business, social networking could be a safety net during recession, helping to build outside partnerships and encourage greater innovation and communication within the business, says think-tank Demos.

It's done some research for telecoms provider Orange that indicates businesses are beginning to see the value of social networking within the business, using tools such as Facebook, Huddle, Twitter, as well as blogs and wikis to get people collaborating across the business and with customers and partners.

Social networking tools can provide a safety net for business during difficult times, says Peter Bradwell, Demos researcher and the co-author of the report, "Network Citizens".

"In today's difficult business environment the instinctive reaction can be to batten down the hatches and return to traditional 'command and control' techniques," he says. But allowing employees flexibility and freedom "appears to create businesses more capable of maintaining stability," he says.

According to their CEO John Chambers, Cisco saved $150 million through collaborative tools that harnessed networks of ideas: "For the first time, collaborative IT will be so
intertwined with the business strategy you won't know the difference between the two."

It also encourages employees to forge relationships across the company, and to build links with customers and partners.

Key areas where social networking can help are in encouraging people to innovate, raising productivity and helping with what Demos calls 'democratic working'.

But the nature of social networking means there are certain unwritten rules that users should abide by -- largely to do with respecting users' freedom and trusting them not to abuse that freedom.

Some do's and don'ts for making social networking successful at work:

  1. Don't separate 'professional' and 'social' networking -- don't try to control your team's use of social networking tools.
  2. Do recognise the value of building outside relationships via Web 2.0. Too often, it's only the most senior people in a business who are allowed to build outside relationships, but the more democratic workplace recognises the value of "horizontal networks" at all levels of the organisation.
  3. Keep in contact with former employees through networking.
  4. Do encourage employees to use social networking to build relationships with people across the business.
  5. Don't police networks, but do look at how you can improve them and collectively create your own in-house rules for operating within networks. Otherwise, there's a risk you create exlusive and "self sealing" clubs which act against openness.
  6. Don't allow networking tools to replace face-to-face meetings. Mix and match tools to fit your business needs.
  7. Do canvass your employees to find out which tools will work best for your business and try out a few methods before committing -- don't just latch onto the social networking tools competitors are using.
  8. Do start at the top -- encourage interaction between the business's senior executives and the rest of the business. Show your commitment to creating an open, democratic organisation by getting everyone to learn how to use social networking tools.

(Photos: Luc Legay, CC2.0)