Social Networking

Bosses Warm Up to Social Networking on Company Time

No longer the exclusive domain of computer loving teenagers and college students, social networking has become a tool to drive corporate innovation and facilitate communication from the boardroom on down.

For instance, for AAR, a Wood Dale, Ill.-based aviation services company, communication oriented Web 2.0 tools like those found on popular consumer sites MySpace and Facebook, are playing a key role in their mission to go green.

“We have identified new business development ideas and have helped AAR to become more environmentally friendly,” said Shannon DuVaul, senior director of end user computing. “An example of this is our electricity cost savings initiative wherein AAR is replacing all building lighting fixtures with Fluorescent fixtures.”

Happier Employees

The energy saving measure was suggested by an employee and the change was implemented throughout the company. When AAR Vice President of Strategy Development Ben Sandzer-Ball logged onto the new myAAR Discussion Forum and asked everyone in the company what they were doing to reduce their carbon footprint, he received a flood of responses.

“For an employee, knowing that your voice is heard makes AAR a better place to work,” DuVaul said. “The myAAR Discussion Forum ensures accessibility from the President’s office to all AAR employees.”

AAR is a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Green Power Partnership.

An employee wrote that, “little improvements add up.” Over time, she said her family has switched to using earth-friendly cleaning products and energy efficient appliances.

Another employee said he was so inspired by AAR’s commitment to going green that he purchased a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid.

In the short period of time AAR has used this service, recommendations for new threads and posts have been created. The application enables anyone in the company to post a question, comment or response or start a new topic of their own.

Adopting Internal Communication Structures

Ning, founded by Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen, hosts the company’s social network. With the ability to choose from applications like photo and video sharing along with widgets and other features, the social networking site does not offer a version to run on the company’s own server.

With more than 60 offices worldwide, AAR is an example of a large corporation that is quickly adopting internal communication structures modeled after those found in social networks, according to International Data Corporation, (IDC) research manager, Rachel Dappe.

Dappe, who produced a study called “Web 2.0 at Work,” said that Enterprise 2.0, or the corporate adoption of social networking tools, has been considerable due to their effectiveness in cutting across barriers in large corporations. Dappe was surprised to find such a high percentage of regular usage of these applications within the largest enterprises, rather than small and medium-sized companies, she said.

“Adoption of Web 2.0 tech is higher than we expected it to be,” said Dappe, of the findings in her early 2007 survey.

More than 40 percent of business users consume social networking applications like blogs, intranets and RSS (really simple syndication) feeds more than three times a week. More than 30 percent of respondents read information in wikis, social networks, discussion boards and videoconferences/IMs more than three times a week. More than 20 percent of respondents contribute to blogs, intranets, social networks, discussion boards, video conferencing and tagging more than three times a week.

For Official Purposes

Dappe found that business users often use these tools for more for official purposes than for personal reasons. Although the study concluded that the initial exposure to these social networking technologies, for early adopters, was in the consumer space, it is increasingly likely that initial exposure to these technologies for many users will come from enterprise applications used in the workplace.

This study revealed that usage of Web 2.0 tools within the workplace was significant and that many entities have not yet centralized the management of these applications. The majority of business users are evaluating, sourcing, paying for and deploying these applications themselves. The majority of Web 2.0 applications implemented in businesses are not managed by an IT department.

Given the rising adoption of these collaborative Web 2.0 technologies, IT departments will soon have the complex task of consolidating solutions and deploying them broadly across the enterprise so that information is in a small number of secure and reliable systems.

Earlier this year, IBM implemented an enterprise-wide IT controlled social networking package called Lotus Connections.

The company said it is one part of a range of features designed to take advantage of “real-time presence and communications capabilities.”

At the Office 2.0 Conference earlier this month, 28-year-old former investment banker Adam Carson of global financial services firm Morgan Stanley outlined his vision to bring the firm up to speed with Enterprise 2.0. Carson said that Morgan Stanley has 70 to 80 social networking projects underway, many involving creating online communities with clients and wikis.

His ideas are getting traction in part because of the demographics of Morgan Stanley’s 55,000 employees. With more than half of their workforce under the age of 35, Carson sees the conversion in communication toward corporation wide collaborative software as a necessity. Over the next decade, the vast majority of workers will have grown up with social networking and be accustomed with using these Web 2.0 applications to communicate and share ideas.

They also use these tools to socialize however, which has prompted some companies to restrict the use of consumer based social networks because of security concerns and loss of productivity.

So while some companies are implementing their own social networks, others are taking measures to restrict access to them.

This makes perfect sense, according to Rich Lyons, a veteran of IT consulting. Lyons, who is president and founder of Lyons Consulting Group (LCG), worked with AAR in the implementation of their social networking applications.

“You have to separate the two out,” he said. “Some companies restrict chat, so similarly if you think of MySpace or Facebook as more of a social, communication tool for friends, that company might incorporate those same tools but use them for business purposes. There have been people that have spent two hours a day on MySpace. No way are you going to want that.”

These business based communication tools were also safer when it came to security issues, Carson said. They also allowed for easier monitoring of employee communications.

“If it’s the property of your company you can monitor the content,” he said. “Its much harder to monitor what someone’s doing on MySpace, but if your company has installed it, it’s much easier. Plus, you can focus on how it’s going to help your business. You can set up different forums for discussion and actually use it to foster communication but yet drive efficiency at the same time.”

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