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Risky business? The challenges, rewards, and inevitability of social networking in the enterprise

By Michael K. Smith, Distinguished Technologist, HP Enterprise Services



By the time Hurricane Irene hit New York City, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. But the impact was still significant. In the critical hours of preparation, city officials leaned on social media—crowdsourcing damage reports real-time through an information-sharing website.


The lines are blurring between personal and business social networking, even in government and public sector. Staying connected is easier than ever, with social media expanding the very notion of networking in ways that weren’t possible a decade ago. In the aftermath of the storm, authorities were able to see where resources should be allocated first. However, for enterprises trying to leverage productivity and safeguard intellectual property, social media’s new capabilities are also a challenge.


Boundaries are shifting

As technology breaks down the boundary between personal and professional, consumer – or prosumer – behavior is following suit. Digital distraction is changing how we multitask. And despite the concerns, the business outcomes may outweigh the risks.


Dr. Eric Darr, provost and executive vice president of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, conducted a week-long social media consciousness-raising project last year, and results of that experiment drove home the fact that social media has completely altered the way we interact, both personally and professionally. In fact, both students and faculty indicated that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish business-related posts from social ones.


“This shows us that people are more comfortable with mixing their business and personal social media accounts, and they aren’t always separating what happens at work from what happens outside the office environment,” Dr. Darr says.


Productivity lost or opportunities gained?

In its most positive outcome, this can mean connecting with potential customers or with other employees who are geographically dispersed. The bigger concern it often raises is how much productivity is lost due to this vanishing boundary between the personal and professional space. While that’s a question that many executives and managers are asking, it’s a tough one to answer.


“That’s a hard study to pull off, because there are so many factors to consider,” Dr. Darr says. “However, we are seeing more studies that show some of the positive sides to this – like increased sales, employees being recruited and improved corporate awareness and branding.”


And while it raises new governance and policy questions within the enterprise – such as whether or not a manager should “friend” an employee on Facebook – it also creates new avenues for boosting camaraderie and building corporate pride, says Anne Laguzza, president of The Works Consulting, a human resources consulting firm in Los Angeles.  


Peer-to-peer power

“We listen to our peers more than we’ll believe advertising, so to have an employee posting good things on their [personal] page about a company can have a positive effect,” says Laguzza. “Using social media is no different than talking; and if they’re saying good things about their workplace, it’s something companies should encourage.”


Whether encouraged or not, the power of social networks is undeniable, and creating new ways to harness that power is the business enterprise’s next big challenge.


“This is here to stay,” says Dr. Darr. “It will evolve, but it has become the fabric of the way the world works today. Whether we like it in the workplace or not is inconsequential. We can’t ignore it, and we can’t believe it’s not important – because it is.”


Utilizing this new hybrid of personal and professional information will change not only how we interact within the enterprise, but also how we reach beyond it. “It’s allowing us to connect to people in a way that email can’t,” Dr. Darr says.


How should enterprises take advantage of these new opportunities and still operate efficiently? Join the discussion at the Innovation INSIGHT LinkedIn group or learn how these changes are affecting enterprise risk by watching the Enterprise Security and the Waves of Disruption: It’s Surf or Sink webcast.

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