Social Software

Armano writes a compelling article on how Web2.0 and social networking has changed marketing strategies and created a “conversation ecosystem”, and says: “It’s the conversation economy stupid” (2007).

Surely we are in a new era of communication when we think of the impact social networking has on communication and marketing strategies of organizations.  This article will discuss the explosion of Social Networking and the effect it might have on organizations.

This article will begin by looking at a few social networking sites (SNS’s) or social software available and their main focus and usage.  The article will then briefly discuss the effects social networking might have on organizations and organizational behaviour and will end by focussing briefly on ways to avoid the disadvantages and how organizations can exploit the advantages.

Definitions

It is necessary to define the terms in this paper as new words are being developed at the same rate as new technology enhancements is being introduced.

Most of the social networking software became available with the development of Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 was the second development of web technologies: from static web pages and internet protocols to dynamic web applications which made sharing and collaboration much more accessible to everyone, thereby creating the opportunities for social networking, web-based communities, forums and blogs.

Social networking will be something different in the sociology and even in psychology.  In these contexts, a social network will be an interdependent network of relations or associations between individuals which share the same values or goals.  Our emphasis will be on social networking in the context of Web 2.0 applications.  Boyd & Ellison (2007) defined social network as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system”.  Social networking is therefore a web based method of communication between people, forming a “virtual community” (ZDNet) of people.

Social software is merely the Web 2.0 applications that make collaboration possible, for example the scripting software behind wikis, blogs, forums and Content Management Systems (CMS).

Blog is a derivative of the word “web log”.  In essence a blog or web log is an “e-diary”, an electronic version of a personal diary.  It soon developed in more than just an e-diary and rapidly became a system where individuals can add items, share insight, write articles etc. to a web site.  Webopedia defines a blog as “a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author”.  Typically, a blog owner will create content (a post) and publish it to his/her blog.  Visitors will be able to read and leave comments as they choose.

A wiki is similar to a blog with the only difference that with a blog, the owner is the only originator of content while visitors leave comments.  A wiki can have more than one owner and in some cases, depending on the configuration by the owner or administrators, visitors might also be able to contribute or even modify original content and not only leave comments.  The name originates from a “Hawaiian phrase “wiki wiki”, which means “super fast” (TechTerms.com).  The ability for visitors to publish comments or content stems from the Web 2.0 technology.  The best example of the popularity of wiki’s are Wikipedia; a free “encyclopedia” on anything.  Literally anyone can register and can create and/or edit a page with the correct information on any subject. socialsf2web2

Tagging is often used in social software to describe the process of identifying words to be indexed.  On a blog, for example, one would write a blog on the security issues in Linux.  To attract visitors to this blog and leave comments, the words “Linux, security, software, Microsoft” etc, can be used as tags.  These words will then show up as search terms, driving traffic to your blog.

Social Enterprise 2.0 is the combination of Web 2.0 applications and the way business operates.  Enterprise 2.0 uses the Web 2.0 collaborative tools to enhance communication in an organization by enhancing the ways information flow through an organization; it “creates structured chaos” (Nations, D. 2009).

Mashups are a way of integrating “data from two or more sources and displaying it with a unique look” (Nations, D : 2009 ) in one web site by utilising the API’s of Web 2.0 applications.  A good example is Flash Earth which is a “mashup” of Microsoft’s Visual Earth and various map sources like Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps, NASA and OpenAerialMap.  Many SNS’s use this technology to collaborate between different SNS’s.

Social Software

CRM Editors (2009) published an article and listed 50 social networking sites.  Its impossible to list and discuss all of them.  This paper therefore chose a few social networking sites to introduce and discuss their usage, advantages and disadvantages.

Squidoo is “a publishing platform and community that makes it easy for you to create "lenses" online. Lenses are pages, kind of like flyers or signposts or overview articles that gather everything you know about your topic of interest--and snap it all into focus. (Squidoo; What’s Squidoo?).  Squidoo is built around the principle that everyone “is an expert on something” and therefore encourages its users to share their passion with others.  Squidoo also offers its members an opportunity to earn money by an affiliation programme.  Squidoo earns its money from advertisements and affiliate links.  According to their “short bio”, they give 5% to charity and uses 45% for overheads.  The other 50% is then distributed to its members.

LinkedIn, like ecademy is a site which aims at connecting business contacts to each other thereby creating a network of business contacts and relations.  Connections can recommend each other, creating a “word of mouth” recommendation of users’ services and skills.

Xing is a global networking site for professionals who bring people together, like LinkedIn.  Xing acts as a “professional contact manager to organize your new friends and colleagues and take advantage of the Business Accelerator application” (CRM Editors).  Xing also acts as a job finder.

Gather is a community who claims to be “the premier social network for the over-30 crowd” (Gather.com).   Gather therefore caters more for the intellectual members and focuses on collaboration on “real life” topics more than “who’s hot” (Gather.com).

Mixx help users to manage the overflow of information in today’s world.  Mixx assists users to link to web content they really want without having to search the whole internet.  It can be seen as a bookmarking application.

An interesting site is 43Things which is an online community where one can publish your goals and ambitions and get encouraged by others.  According to USA Today, more than 1 million people have posted their personal goals of which the top goal is to lose weight (43Things.com).

Wetpaint is a site where you can go one step further than blogging and create a wiki.  It originated around the vision of creating a site where people or groups of people can “share information, experiences and build social communities around anything they want” (Wetpaint.com).  Wetpaint aims at mixing all the Web 2.0 features (wikis, blogs, forums) into one online community to generate collaboration.

Guru.com is a service to connect freelance contractors and “employers”.  Anyone looking for contractors for a project can register their project, get quotes, award the work and pay through a safe online transaction.  Freelancers, on the other hand, search for projects they’re proficient in, post a profile, submit quotes, work on the project if it is awarded and get paid.  This way, freelance contractors have an opportunity to market their services to a global community, and businesses get the opportunity to contract contractors worldwide.  Guru.com is known as “the world’s largest online service marketplace” (Guru.com).

Twitter is a new service where users can post short messages of approximately 140 characters, indicating their status or what they currently busy with.  As Twitter’s website says: “...to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” (Twitter).  Twitter is what is newly termed Micro-blogging.  Micro-blogging is “a combination of blogging and instant messaging” (Nations, D. 2009) and can also be sent to cell phones.  Because these updates can be posted to cell phones, users can quickly post short messages to a group of people or friends, updating them of your whereabouts.

Facebook needs no introduction.  Facebook started as a social networking site for students to follow who’s studying the same degree.   Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004 and soon extended membership to other universities, and eventually globally.  The best description of exactly what Facebook does is given by Marsden: “creating a container for us to bring our real-world friends together in an online community.” (2009).   It does offer opportunities for entrepreneurs to earn money through applet development, called widgets in Facebook or through advertising.  Nick Gonzalez (2009) has a web site with real time statistics and demographics of Facebook, checkfacebook.com.  According to this site, there are currently 190 million Facebook users, of which 59 million is from the USA.  South Africa has 1,4 million users and has the most users in Africa.

Social Networking in Organizations

Benefits

From the previous short description of only a few of the SNS’s, social networking does have endless possibilities for any organization and has the potential to communicate to employers, clients and business associates.

Organizations can use social networking sites (SNS) to establish business connections.  Here, LinkedIn is an excellent tool as it extends one’s business network.  LinkedIn has the added advantage of recommendations.  In an interview with LinkedIn’s Marketing VP, Guericke says:  “We found, in our personal experiences, that a lot of our business came to us from people we know and trust. This included getting recommendations for people to hire or agencies to hire or, if there was a specific person we wanted to meet, looking for someone we knew who could give us an introduction” (Barden 2004).  He goes on to say that most of their clients came from referrals.  Happy customers are likely to share your brand and facilitate new relationships with other people with similar interests.

Organizations can also use SNSs to share their products or company documents.  With SNS’s as the fastest growing components on the internet, sharing your organization’s vision, mission, and/or brand can increase web traffic to your organization’s web site.  SNS’s therefore contributes to an organization’s web presence and other marketing strategies.  There is also an added benefit: the more an organization participates on SNS’s, the more it is listed in search engine optimization, which in turn increases search engine listings.

SNS’s can be a major source of interaction between an organization and customers, building trust and loyalty.  Different ways of sharing information through SNS’s are blogs, tele-seminars, podcasts and tweets of product info.  SNS’s can also act as a source for sharing knowledge with employees.  Organizations can use SNS’s to improve internal communication from management, to distribute policies and procedures from business units.  It is also very useful for employees to share their experiences, lessons learnt and their skills sets with each other.  This way, SNS’s can play a major role in creating and sharing of knowledge in organizations.

SNS’s can also act as a damage control measure.  With the availability of the internet and SNS’s, people are not only consumers of information, but also creating content themselves.  Therefore, indifferent and unhappy customers have the power to cause considerable damage to an organization’s image by posting complaints on the internet.  Many companies chose to try and ignore these negative posts, with detrimental effects.  Others use SNS’s to participate and chose to do damage control.  There a two popular sites in the South African context giving consumers a platform to complain about poor delivery of service, namely helhopeter.com and closure.co.za.  On these sites, organizations are given an opportunity to answer complaints, which customers in turn can rate.  This proves to be an effective means of damage control and the restoration of relationships, credibility and loyalty.  It is amazing to see how many companies chose not to participate, showing the ignorance that many companies still have regarding the power of SNS’s and the internet.  The now infamous Texas disgruntled passenger who created a web site (neverflysaa.com) to voice his complaint, raised interesting legal and copyright issues with consumers’ ability to create web sites and posts to voice their dissatisfaction.  Nevertheless, disgruntled consumers do have the ability to do considerable harm to an organization’s reputation.  This proves the importance of using SNS to promote your organization and brand and where necessary, control damage though blog postings.  But to ignore the “voice of the people”, can prove to be very destructive.  “The Internet gave everyone a megaphone and a means to talk to anyone else, no matter where they may be. Consumers who like or don’t like a product can now amplify their opinions on blogs, online discussion forums, and consumer product review websites -- or just blast their thoughts about a company or product to friends via e-mail, MySpace, Facebook, instant messaging, or cell phone text messages.” (Outing, S., 2007:6).

It is clear that SNS’s can assist an organization in building relationships with customers, associates and employees.  Such relationships create loyalty which is a key for business success, but also disseminate information (for example, wikis as source of documentation, meetings, project updates etc) (Nations : 2009).  SNS’s are becoming a key marketing tool!

Caveats

The saying that a picture says much more than words, are just as true in SNS’s.  A profile picture is a in a sense the “branding” of one’s organization. It is much more real and personal to connect to a profile picture that is a good advertisement to your company, or even a picture of a real person, than something surreal.  A Profile picture can let potential clients accept or deny an organization’s request to connect.  One online user who explained why he accepted a request of a band, illustrates this point.  “The first thing I noticed about this band that made them different was their default picture. It wasn't of flaming skulls or weird cryptic text written in blood, it did not contain weird cult-like images of cows being sacrificed or the typically image of a red rose - it was a candid image of their band and it wasn't professionally taken” (Hays. 2009).    A profile picture must portray something about the truthfulness, transparency and genuineness of an organization.  It is therefore important for organizations to present themselves, whether it is through a profile “picture” or brand, or the home page of their social networking site, in such a way that consumers and potential consumers will accept their request to link.

The biggest concerns with SNS are security issues.  Many books, articles and news items originated in the last few years from cyber-stalkers – people who follow your profile and eventually pose a physical risk to individuals.  More and more younger people are warned not to post too much personal information on their online profiles, and to utilise the privacy options in online sites, especially Facebook.  But, Facebook requires its users to use their real name instead of an alias, posting more info that one probably would like to.  Facebook extract information from users’ profiles to post advertising, which is Facebook’s main income stream.  And that is Facebook’s disadvantage; it uses our private information and the users don’t have any control over that.  “...anything we choose to reveal on the site, from our birthdate (sic), to our taste in music or our enthusiasm for abseiling is inextricably linked to us and stored for posterity - even if we decided to close our account” (Marsden : 2009).  There is also not certainty that companies who declares their “Privacy Policies” actually stick to them.  Myspace lost much ground because of spamming, which can only be accounted for by sharing such private information.

Not only poses too much detail a physical danger, but it can also damage your image and personal character.  It is said that more and more employers are following its employees’ and potential employees’ online profiles.  Michael Guinn, for example, was expelled from the John Brown University in Springs, Arkansas, for posting a picture of himself dressed in drag (Kornblum & Marklein; 2006).  Kornblum & Marklein also reported various other cases of online users being disadvantaged because of online activities and/or posts.  It is therefore imperative that one acts ethical and responsible online as you would in person.  The general recommendation is: don’t post online what you wouldn’t want your boss or future employer to see.

Another security related concern is the dissemination of trade secrets and other company related information by employees.  Sophos reported that 63% of companies are concerned that their employees share too much company information on SNS’s (Sophos, 2009).  Where the concern was in the beginning the time employees spent on social networking sites, it now shifted towards a security concern.  According to Sophos’ (2009) research, approximately 50% of organizations do not control access to SNS’s.  Sophos’ report ends by stating that the solution is not necessarily control or prohibiting access to these sites as most malware and spamming still enters an organization through email.  With the advantages of social networking, this paper agrees with Sophos’ research that the solution lies in “the following advice:

  • educating your workforce about online risks
  • Consider filtering access to certain social networking sites at specific times
  • Check the information that your organization and staff share online
  • Review your Web 2.0 security settings regularly
  • Ensure that you have a solution in place that can proactively scan all websites for malware, spam and phishing content” (Sophos : 2009).

 Conclusion

This article gave an overview on the Web 2.0 development which opened up the way for social networking sites and applications to change the way organizations interact with each other, its employees and consumers.

Much of this research focussed on the international context and it was clear that many organizations do utilise these new technologies as organizations.  Organizations use SNS’s as collaborative tools but also as Knowledge Management tools internally.  Two organizations who embraced these technologies fully are the web site of National Football League (NFL) and Fiskateers, a scirror company.  The NFL uses Web 2.0 technologies to transform their static web site to a “highly participative, two-way hosted online communities.” (Outing; 2007:5).  Fiskateers uses these technologies to create online scrapbooks, as most of their customers are scrapbook enthusiasts (Outing; 2007).

When looking at the South African context, especially referring to hellopeter.com and closure.co.za, it is clear that many South African organizations still operate with little to no consideration for Web 2.0 technologies and its advantages.  Relating to my own organization, it still doesn’t even utilise an intranet for internal communications or document management.  Maybe a lot of this ignorance should also be laid before the door of employees as they don’t realise the advantages these technologies do have, and therefore don’t utilise, or even demand it enough.  Facebook is fairly big in the South African context, but Twitter is still very much unknown for many internet users in South Africa.

Even if there are disadvantages in the Web 2.0 developments, and specifically in the use of social networking, most researchers agree that the benefits are more.  “Any organization with a tight customer or user base should be thinking about applying social networking and social media applications to its business.” (Outing; 2007:5).  Organizations will do themselves a favour by embracing these technologies as Knowledge Management tools, as well as marketing tools, but at the same time, be alert to revise their usage and implement the proper safeguard techniques against its misuse or dangers.


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