Rapid advancements in communication technologies have given rise to a range of portable devices such as cell phones, smartphones, iPhones, and blackberries, which in turn has made it possible for people to communicate anywhere at any time of the day. Internet, rightly called the information highway, has served as the backbone for all this and there is hardly an organization without Internet service. Besides voice communication, people use data communication such as emails, chats, instant messaging, SMS, and websites to communicate and share information. This has led to a growth of websites that offer a means of sharing information, examples of which include Facebook (general), Linkedin (business), Livejournal (blogging) to name a few. The workers of today are comfortable with using these types of websites in their everyday life and it is just natural that these should be provided to them in their workplaces. The goal is to empower the workers by providing them with relevant tools that will allow them to share information in more informal settings. The proposed solution is to introduce social media into the corporate network.
The primary benefit of employing social media is that it provides a platform for sharing information among team members and receiving feedback, all in real-time. This is aligned with the Canon philosophy of “living and working together for the common good” (Canon, 2008) because it focuses on community and relationships. The benefits of implementing this solution are collaboration, which allows employees to share information about issues that affect everyone and look for solutions, without management involvement. Another benefit is avoiding re-inventing the wheel because organizational problems that occur in one location may already have a ready solution available at another location. Collaborating online in an informal setting could result in faster completion of projects because it helps team members make quality decisions by providing them with information in real-time. There is are definite positive impacts of implementing social networking or computing in a corporate network, such as encouraging innovation and effective marketing, which are worth investigating. However, as with implementing any new technology or solution, there are associated challenges that need to be weighed against the benefits.
There is a cluster of companies providing the same services to the same target consumers at differing costs. Organizations can differentiate themselves from the competition by improving productivity and focussing on their fundamental processes also known as core competencies. Today’s economy is a knowledge-based economy and the core competencies of any organization include collective corporate knowledge and experience of its people. Unlike common everyday conversations which could sometimes be aimless, corporate or business communication has certain objectives.
An organization is made up of people with various skills and abilities and organizations need to be able to effectively tap into these vast resources. Good business managers can identify staff and benefit from their skills through partnership, which means establishing collaborative relationships. Collaboration is the basis for bringing together the knowledge, experience, and skills of multiple team members to contribute to the development of a new product more effectively (Crow, 2002). So important is collaboration for teamwork that they are used almost synonymously.
To foster collaboration businesses need to create a culture where team members can learn to appreciate diverse viewpoints as well as express their own to seek a win-win outcome (Mead, 2005). There are several tools and techniques currently employed by organizations to foster collaboration, which could be through emails, face-to-face meetings, teleconferencing, or web conferencing. All these however are very formal tools and employees may not always be comfortable sharing their ideas in such settings.
As mentioned before, knowledge gained over many years of existence and understanding customer preferences is an important asset of any organization. Companies have tried to capture and share this knowledge through documentation, training, or using centralized repositories such as “Wiki” sites. However, there is a kind of knowledge that cannot be written down or verbalized and is usually gained through direct hands-on experience. This is known as tacit knowledge or more informally “know-how”. Because tacit knowledge is much harder to document, copy, and distribute, it can be a sustainable source of competitive advantage (Kotelnikov). This kind of knowledge is usually shared while having coffee or dining with colleagues in a very casual setting among trusted people.
Canon was established in 1937 and the since then grown to be a global company. According to Canon UK, The Canon Group currently employs a global workforce of over 160,000 and has 245 subsidiaries and affiliated companies. Canon, like every other successful organization, understands that employees are important to their success and have focussed their efforts on developing employee skills. The guiding principles of Canon are based on the “Three Selfs” which are self-motivation, self-management, and self-awareness (Canon Global), which represent three different skill sets or ways of conducting oneself at work. These are used internally at Canon to help remind employees of their responsibilities to themselves and those with whom they come into contact (Canon UK, 2009).
Canon Marketing (Thailand) Co., Ltd, was established in 1995 as a subsidiary of Canon Inc. Japan currently employs 500 employees dedicated to meeting customer satisfaction. The company shares the beliefs of the Canon Group and believes that success requires good corporate citizenship.
It is not just about sharing information, but also improving productivity by encouraging self-management or empowerment and self-motivation. The proposal is to introduce social media or social networking to Canon Marketing (Thailand), to encourage sharing of knowledge and community building. This is possible by introducing social network technology, also called social computing, into the corporate intranet environment. It is important however to ensure that this tool is viewed as a business tool and not as an entertainment tool and so corporate guidelines should apply to the usage of this tool. As an example employees should be made aware that certain pictures of themselves may be permissibly on a public social site like Facebook but not on a social network within Canon.
Social websites are unique, completely different from regular websites, and have some very distinguishing characteristics. One of the most striking features of social networking sites is that, unlike regular websites that are content-based, these sites are user focussed. According to The Rice University Study cited on socialnetworking.lovetoknow.com, there are five core characteristics of social networking, which are:
- User-based – Social networking websites are focused on users and the information they want to share or contribute. This means the content is generated by users and information flows two ways, unlike regular websites where content is provided by the company and information flows in one direction.
- Interactive – Once a user posts a piece of information members who are connected to this user respond. In other words, social networking sites are like virtual lounges or coffee shops users can relax, play a game of chess, and connect with people who share the same interests.
- Community focussed – Social networking sites are virtual communities where like-minded people gather to share information. It is this sharing of information within the context of a community that adds value because it is respected by an employee’s connection.
- Relationships – The whole idea of social networking is building relationships. It is not just about making friends or connections; rather it is about building meaningful relationships which should ultimately result in achieving a business objective.
- Emotion – Social networking sites are only a platform where real people come together to communicate. While it is true that most members may never meet each other in person, it is also true that many members who already know each other find themselves communicating more on social networking sites than in person. There is therefore an element of emotion associated with these sites.
Areas of Application
Within a corporate setting, there are several areas where social networking can be gainfully employed. It should be remembered that social networking sites are only platforms where like-minded people come together to share information. There is absolutely no limit to the ideas 160,000 minds from a global organization are capable of generating. Some other application areas are:
- Innovation – Innovation provides the company an ability to create new wealth, which is possible when a new product is accepted by the public. A corporate social networking website can be used as a testing ground for new products.
- Collaboration – Organizations such as FedEx and Lockheed Martin already use social networking sites for collaboration (Mathews, 2007). Team members can share ideas informally which can help each other accomplish daily tasks.
- Projects – Project teams can be a complex mix of cross-functional departments sometimes with conflicts of interest. Social networking sites can help break down barriers and allow team members to focus on the overall corporate objectives rather than personal or departmental goals.
- Marketing – Social networking sites can serve as a great marketing tool for new products. “Word of mouth” is one of the best ways of marketing and promoting. A core characteristic of social networking is its focus on community and relationship building. Information flows fast on social networking sites and is a great tool for marketing if used properly.
Social networking may sound like a buzzword but there are industry examples that show that these sites can truly translate into real benefits for the employees and the company. To understand the benefits of social networking consider a real-life example at FedEx. FedEx has a corporate social networking website called FaceNet. Employees will log into FaceNet using their credentials and create their areas with issue groups. Other employees who are interested in understanding and resolving these issues will join the groups and interact and collaborate on these issues. Members of the group will upload articles, pictures, how-to’s, and other material to discuss and resolve the issue.
Ainsworth, the director of IT innovation at FedEx, who has a team of 40 members with 4 dedicated to social networking says, “Ideally, I’d like to have to Face Net—and social networking in general—become an accepted part of doing business at FedEx,” (Mathews, 2007). The clear benefit here is that employees are empowered to resolve a certain issue, even an internal corporate issue, without going through a formal hierarchical process thus allowing management to focus on other important issues.
Canon Group has 245 subsidiaries and affiliates around the world, each of which may be working in their silos. Supposing a departmental manager in Canon Thailand has an issue, the only for them to resolve it is to collaborate through local meetings. A social networking site will allow them to raise this issue which may invite departmental managers in other Canon subsidiaries to join in resolving these issues. If the issue has already been resolved the manager in Thailand will get the solution quickly without wasting much time in meetings. If not all managers can collectively discuss and come up with a resolution. This would not only help the Canon Thailand manager to see how others have solved a similar issue but also help managers who have not yet faced this issue act proactively. Without social networking, there would be no easy way to collaborate on local issues.
Lockheed Martin is another company that uses social networking. Joe Cleveland, CIO, and President at Lockheed Martin believes the new generation of workers who have joined the workforce are very comfortable with being online and like bouncing ideas off one another. According to Cleveland, he has already seen positive results from using social networking because the information is passed on in real-time which has reflected in reduced project cycle times (Mathews, 2007).
While there are benefits to implementing social networking sites there are also potential impacts that need to be thoroughly studied. Social networking encourages innovation and idea generation. Ideas can be invited and filtered and new prototypes can be created in a shorter timeframe. With 160,000 employees from around the world, this diverse group can be an excellent ground for testing new prototypes. Employees can be encouraged to provide feedback after they have tested the prototypes. This will allow prototypes to be tested for every region faster and more economically.
In a corporate setting, hierarchy plays an important role, and depending on the culture, subordinates may not always be comfortable in challenging their superiors. This builds barriers and may hinder the flow of knowledge that benefits the organization. Social networking can help in breaking down these walls of separation and can aid in the transfer of tacit knowledge. An impact here is these sites encourage a bottom-up approach, where empowered employees work to resolve issues that affect them most, and management is left to focus on important corporate issues.
Companies make and enforce corporate policies. These policies are usually somewhere in the network or stored away as documents. Social networking sites can help in making the employees more aware of these corporate policies and can be used to remind them from time to time.
As mentioned before, social networking will break down many barriers and encourage a bottom-up approach. Most organizations have employees from various age groups and older members may see social networking as a “waste of time”.
Security is a major challenge that needs to be looked at carefully. It is not uncommon for employees to inadvertently post-corporate confidential information on these sites, which may be viewed by those who are not authorized to do so. A large percentage of IT leaders are concerned with online leakage of information and identify it as a primary concern associated with the use of social networking.
As more and more employees join these social networking sites, a huge amount of information is transferred quickly. One challenge is whether the company wants to host this site internally or externally. It is important to understand that these websites can be used as a repository of ideas which is proprietary and many need to be protected. Moreover, decisions on how long to store the information, how to safely discard them, and the costs associated with storing data need to be carefully evaluated.
Implementing social networking will need in the attitude of management. It is recommended to managers be trained on the advantages and disadvantages of social networking and to view this site as a business tool for the transfer of ideas and knowledge. With some supervision, management may also need to delegate and empower certain individuals or teams with decision-making powers so that they can enable change.
Corporate policy, such as acceptable use policy, needs to be in place to guide employees on what they can and cannot do on social networking sites. Security software should disallow certain types of pictures or videos from being posted and scan for vulgar languages or swear words. Moreover, companies should take reasonable efforts to protect their employees and to ensure they do not post personal confidential information such as credit cards or passwords on social networking sites.
Although several companies provide hosting services, considering the amount and nature of the information that flows it is recommended to host the website internally. This will ensure that traffic to and from social networking sites stays within the perimeter of corporate LAN infrastructure. There may also be a need to investigate how corporate network infrastructures of 245 subsidiaries and affiliates can be integrated.
Canon-Global, 2009. The San-ji (Three Selfs) Spirit. Web.
Canon-UK, 2009. 3 Selfs – Canon’s San-ji Spirit. Web.
Canon Marketing (Thailand), 2008. Canon’s Philosophy. Web.
Crow, K., 2008. COLLABORATION. Web.
Kotelnikov, V., Tacit Knowledge as a Source of Competitive Advantage. Web.
Mathews, C., 2007. Discovering the Power of Social Networking Sites. Web.
Mead, S., 2005. Collaboration: An Important Leadership Development Skill. Web.
Social Networking, Characteristics of Social Networks. Web.