Numerous research studies, blogs and articles have explored the negative and positive effects of social networking on communication in business.
Social Networking and Society
Stephen J. Dubner is the co-author of the book Freakonomics and a writer for the New York Times blog by the same name. In a post dated February 15, 2008, he asked a panel of experts if they believed that social networking has made society better or worse. The experts' opinions were based on their psychological, economical and sociological perspective.
Martin Baily, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, compared social networking to air conditioning. It certainly makes people comfortable on a hot summer day, but anyone who grew up without it may be nostalgic for the days when they kept cool by sitting on the porch talking to neighbors, as opposed to going inside, turning on the air conditioning and watching television.
The elimination of face-to-face communication presents an interesting communication dilemma for businesses. It is certainly cost effective, as evidenced by the number of businesses that have created Twitter pages. Hyatt Hotels is a perfect example. In May 2009, the company created its Concierge Twitter page, which is monitored 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Followers can ask questions and get an answer in real-time. The concierge can also help with a reservation or book hotel services. This means that more phone lines are open, and the daily hotel operations may become more efficient.
United Airlines also uses Twitter to their benefit. When they first created their account, they offered special discount fares that were only posted on their Twitter page, and their first 10,000 Twitter followers received a 1,500-mile frequent flyer bonus. The mileage is not enough for a free trip, but if you already have a considerable build-up, it may be just enough to move you closer to one, provided that you take one or two more domestic flights on United. The Twitter promo was therefore a cost-effective means of communicating with customers. It might have given them more incentive to fly with the airline.
Social Networking as a Marketing Tool
Social networking can be an inexpensive and powerful marketing tool. A social network page can provide enormous exposure, as evidenced by the many fan pages on Facebook. They also enable direct communication between businesses and their loyal and potential customers.
Internal Effects of Social Networking on Communication in Business
While enhanced interaction with customers may be one of the positive effects of social networking on communication in business, the intra-organization effects are open to debate. Some people expose a good deal of personal information on social networking sites. Unscrupulous co-workers might be tempted to use this information against them.
An article on Knowledge @ Wharton website titled Available All the Time: Etiquette for the Social Networking Age details the privacy and etiquette issues associated with social networking amongst business associates. If you "friend" your boss, he or she may feel that it's perfectly appropriate to use social networks to message you about urgent business during after work hours.
Conflicts may also arise if you choose to use your social networking site for strictly personal purposes, but your business associates see at as a viable means of intra-office communication. The Wharton article gives the example of a woman who wanted to keep her Facebook page separate from her business associations, but her European colleagues wanted to use the social networking site as a means of organizing an important conference.
While some businesses are using Facebook and other social networking sites for business communication, others are limiting employees' online activities during work hours. In some cases, employees may be asked to take down their social networking pages if their online persona is in conflict with the corporate culture.