As social networking sites explode in popularity, the hype and interest continue to build. But sorting the fact from the hype can be a challenge. Social networking at a high level is described as the convergence of technologies that make it possible for individuals to easily communicate, share information, and form new communities online. But the big question today is not what social networking is, but rather what it means for businesses. While social networks began as the province of individuals, businesses are now trying to capitalize on this trend as they search for specific strategies and tactics to derive value from it. Used effectively, social networking sites can enable marketing professionals, salespeople, and customer service agents to develop meaningful relationships with customers in new ways. But the true value from social networking can’t be achieved in isolation. Rather, organizations need to take stock of their core business processes and customer management initiatives and identify how social networking can further enhance and extend those initiatives.
Unlike other communication mediums, social networking sites not only provide the ability for users to communicate with each other but also enable users to find like-minded individuals. Once they discover each other, members can form ad hoc communities based on their mutual interests. Multiplied many times over, these individuals become the new power behind the old saying, “power of the masses.” Thus social networking sites help shift power from the company to the consumer as the masses are able to channel and exert their influence. As social networking sites continue to grow in popularity, firms can no longer solely rely on traditional mediums (print, radio, TV, etc.) to enforce public perception of their product. Conversely, these new communication channels also provide organizations with a way to discover and maintain a persistent connection with their most vocal constituents. By harnessing this social networking information organizations can use it to help identify their most influential consumers, drive participation in product development, and improve brand sentiment. While some organizations may still question the business relevance of social networking, un-monitored conversations that impact their business are likely occurring online right now. And as many companies have learned, it is important to be involved in those conversations. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. Ultimately, social networks should be viewed as a channel that organizations need to monitor and engage in.