Business is driven by relationships and networking. Whether it’s through traditional methods like the Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce, the goal remains the same – connecting with people.
As more next generation professionals enter the workforce, they are bringing with them online tools that facilitate networking in a faster and more comprehensive way than was imaginable through traditional means. These tools are becoming collectively known as "social networking.” While many began with social purposes, usage and demographics have and will continue to evolve.
As younger professionals enter the workplace and older workers start to explore this new frontier, the need for business applications built upon these platforms will increase. For many, the initial reaction is to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the changing environment. Successful firms, however, are embracing these new tools and figuring out how to use them advantageously.
What is Social Networking?
Social networking focuses on building online communities of people who share common interests or activities they hope to explore or collaborate upon together. It’s really the same thing people have done face-to-face for years; it’s just a different way of doing it. Through social networking sites, people can more rapidly build networks that reach much further than was possible in the past. It has also become easier to identify relationships within their networks that can be leveraged for both personal and business purposes.
Although not all-inclusive, here is a list of some of the more popular social networking sites today and the characteristics of each.
- LinkedIn – business-oriented social networking site mainly used for professional networking.
- Facebook – general social networking site allowing users to join networks organized by city, workplace, school and region to connect and interact with other people.
- Twitter – social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts.
- Boomer Knowledge Network – accounting-oriented social networking site allowing users to connect and collaborate on timely and relevant issues in the accounting industry.
- Plaxo - online address book and social networking service providing automatic updating of contact information and centralized contacts.
- MySpace – general social networking site offering an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos.
Why Not Just Block it?
Many argue that these sites distract workers and lead to abuse and wasted time. Their approach to these new technologies is to simply block access. There are several reasons this is a risky approach.
First, people will probably waste more time figuring out how to get around the restrictions than they would if you just allowed them access in the first place. With the proliferation of smart phones, restrictions can be easily bypassed through a web browser on the phone or applications that provide access. Some may even resort to setting up their own proxy server to gain access.
Second, this is what the younger generation wants, and despite age or business experience—they are your pipeline of future employees and customers. If you choose not to allow the tools that they have been accustomed to using to stay connected, many will view your firm as stale or non-progressive. These sites offer an easy avenue for you to communicate your firm’s value proposition to the younger generation.
Third, you’re simply treating a symptom and not the problem. If people are taking advantage of company time and spending all day talking to friends on Facebook, they probably need coaching on professionalism. Take away the communication tool, and they’ll simply resort to other avenues such as making a phone call. In reality, the obligatory small talk and pleasantries inherent to making a phone call actually waste more time than it takes to quickly type a message online. Most people are not spending extended periods of time on these sites each time they visit them. They check for changes or quickly post something, then get right back to work.
A Better Approach
Progressive firms are embracing social networking and other web 2.0 technologies. They are communicating to future employees online through these sites. They understand the power of online communities and the value of leveraging the Internet to build a vibrant network. And, the value is not limited to the firm level. As partners and managers start to use these tools, they begin to realize the number of people in their existing networks who are already online as well as a number of contacts they might have forgotten.
- Establish yourself and your firm online. Sign yourself and your firm up for an account on the major social networking sites. Many prospective employees will find this impressive during the recruiting process. In addition, even young people need accountants, so you also get some cheap advertising to potential future clients.
- Focus on coaching employees about appropriate professional conduct rather than the communication tools they use. Employees can waste just as much time, if not more, on the phone if you don’t coach them about acceptable behavior concerning personal calls. Also, talk to younger employees and solicit ideas and suggestions about how these tools can enhance the success of the firm.
- Leverage these new technologies rather than fighting them. While many sites are still social in nature, the average user’s age is moving upward as more and more people join. As older generations jump on the bandwagon and the younger "veterans” of social networking enter the workforce, there will be increasing demand for business applications on these platforms. When the need exists, developers will create applications to meet it. You will be better positioned to rapidly take advantage of these tools if you’re already familiar with them.
- Assign a task force to investigate ways these technologies can benefit your firm. Select both next generation employees and seasoned professionals to get diverse perspectives. And, who better to put in charge of the effort than the young people who are most familiar with the tools?
- Build and explore your own online network to learn what your peers are doing in the realm of social networking. I think you’ll be surprised not only at the number of familiar names you’ll find, but also the ways they are already using these tools.
The Boomer Knowledge Network
The Boomer Knowledge Network (BKN) is Boomer Consulting’s select, online community that brings together roughly 1,500 like-minded accounting professionals to collaborate on common issues in the areas of technology, strategy, practice management, human resources, training & learning and general management.
The key components of the BKN include:
- Open, honest discussions about products, services and people
- No fluff or product pitches – just straight talk from those who have been there, done that
- Relevant solutions to the way accounting firms do business
- Forward-thinking ideas and bleeding edge technology
- Relevant and timely insights from the Boomer team of experts and partners
- Actionable answers to your most pressing and immediate challenges
- Access to the entire set of Boomer’s acclaimed Advantage Guides™
- A knowledge base of sample policies, job descriptions, planning forms, process checklists and more
- Full-length, video presentations from some of the nation’s most popular and knowledgeable business speakers
Click here to learn more about the BKN and join the accounting industry’s most valuable online community.