Virtual Social Networking for business purposes
The concept of social media is high on the agenda for contemporary senior executives. Decision makers, such as CEOs, as well as support workers, such as consultants, are striving to make profitable use of existing virtual social networks (VSNs) such as Facebook or LinkedIn which present possible platforms for the concept of social media. This study focuses specifically on VSNs in the workplace. The research was undertaken to develop an understanding, from the organization’s perspective, of the benefits and disadvantages involved in maintaining a VSN account for the purpose of encouraging knowledge sharing, collaboration, innovation and other commercial activities.
The study involved a review of the literature in the field and the development of an online survey platform. The literature review uncovered a tendency to treat VSNs as a process rather than by their function. Subsequently, a framework has been developed which classifies the various VSNs in use according to their functionality i.e. as primarily business-related, socially–related or as blended virtual networks. The framework further classifies the VSNs according to whether they are publicly or privately accessible. The methodology adopted was quantitative statistical analysis with qualitative variables, with a focus on descriptive statistics. A hybrid of snowball and convenience sampling was applied. A survey questionnaire was developed and spread via VSNs among 337 employees of different kinds of organizations in order to identify how and why they use VSNs. The main benefits of VSN use, from the organization’s perspective, were identified as quick and informal communication, relationship encouragement, and knowledge sharing. Industry types that tended to use VSNs most were Repair and Maintenance, Personal and other services, and private households employing staff. Approximately half of employees (53.1%) were encouraged to use VSNs for business purposes and maintained a corporate account (58.8%), mostly with Facebook (64.4%). The use of business-related VSN use was found to be dependent on job level. Most companies in the survey had been maintaining a corporate account for between 1 and 3 years and updated it daily under the rules of social media guidelines that had been introduced by 69% of organizations. The power of VSNs nowadays is illustrated by the fact that 87.7% of respondents regarded them as a serious business tool. Furthermore, 35.35% of organizations were planning to introduce the usage of VSNs in the future. VSN features identified and used were predominantly advertising (68.1%) and information purposes and PR (56.9%) aiming to contact principally potential and existing customers. The surveyed organizations not using VSNs identified security reasons such as cyber bullying and cyber stalking (51.6%) as well as privacy issues and data leakage (44.7%) as the main issues.
The findings of this study contribute to our understanding of VSN use in the business context and can act as guidelines for organizations planning to adopt VSNs as part of their strategy. The relevant theoretical, historical and critical contexts of embedding the use of VSNs into business practices are discussed. Managerial implications on how organizations can utilize VSNs for business purposes in a profitable way are also made.