A short research paper
Business Social Networking (BSN) “is the practice of expanding the number of one's business by making connections through individuals and/or organizations.” (whatis.com)
It happens mostly through direct human interactions (e.g. business meetings or networking events) or via internet (one of the fastest growing BSN tool). The ultimate goal of BSN is to, directly or indirectly, maximize profit or revenue. BSN is effective when there is a “mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients and/or customers.” (about.com) In other words, when the parties involved feel that the relationship contribute positively to their goals. This paper briefly discusses how companies are increasingly using web-based BSN tools and software to connect with their clients or partners. It focuses specifically on Facebook, the most popular Social Networking (SN) tool today.
The Technology Side
Business Social Networking: Facebook
Facebook is a site developed to initially allow college students to connect and share messages and photos as a form of social networking. It was launched in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates at Harvard University.
Concept and Statistics
Facebook boasts that its mission “is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Indeed the backbone concept of the site is to connect people with their “friends”, relatives, and others in the World Wide Web by sharing personal information on their profile pages and keeping others informed about what is going on in their lives. On December 12, 2010 Facebook enlisted “600 million users worldwide with roughly… 140 million of those users in the US alone. (...) Facebook reports that about 50% of those users check the site every.” 25% of the total time spent online comes from Facebook (11 hours a week for the average user). (pymnts.com)
Although Facebook was initially developed as a social networking for personal use, it quickly became a major Business Social Networking tool for marketing and promotions and customer relationship management. For example, major news organizations, like The New York Times, use Facebook to keep readers informed about breaking news and current headlines. Smartphone companies such as Apple or HTC use Facebook for announcements about the launching of new products. Public personalities such as artists, celebrities, and politicians take advantage of Facebook to stay in touch with their fans or constituents.
Market Competition: Before and Now
Before Facebook and MySpace, web-based social networking happened mostly through blogs (e.g. Blogspot), Instant Messengers (e.g. AOL IM), online groups (e.g. Yahoo Groups), and discussion forums (e.g. ForumUp), to name a few tools. Even then, the social networking market was extremely competitive and constantly evolving due to the nature of the IT industry. The main difference of the SN market is the speed that changes take place and new entrants can dominate the market share. To illustrate, in 2006 MySpace, the closest competitor of Facebook, was the most popular social networking site in the world. However, in only 2 years Facebook took over the number one spot.
The Business Side
Hardware and Software Products
Facebook does not require complicated hardware set-up on the user side. All one needs is a computer or a smartphone with an internet connection. How, on the software side there are several options: the online site - facebook.com - and several mobile applications for different types of smartphones and other mobile devices.
The traditional competitors have been similar social networking sites like MySpace, Hi5, Que Pasa, Twitter, Linkedin. However, lately Facebook has been expanding into several domains such as the search engine business, geo tagging (e.g. Places), messaging (e.g. the new upcoming product that combines email, IM, Texting). Thus, it has been seen as a major threat for companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
In the business field, Facebook differentiates itself from its competitors like MySpace, which increasingly becomes a promotional social networking tool, by positioning itself as a user-empowered social networking tool.
Different from MySpace, which became known primarily as a site for young teens, Facebook initially targeted college students and then expanded to young adults and businesses. People and business are attracted to Facebook mostly for the types of connections that the site enables them to make. Facebook has also become a gold mine for businesses because of the market it offers and opportunities it opens.
According to pymnts.com, “people use [their networks on] Facebook to get product recommendations (nearly 50 % of consumers use social networks for product referrals) and to interact with brands on Facebook (Globally, just about a third of Internet users connecting with a brand now do so on a social network, Facebook and Twitter for the most part).” Another advantage it provides to businesses is that customers are usually more inclined to buy products recommended by their friends and relatives then by an advertiser or a company’s website.
Advantages and Drawbacks
Among the several advantages of Facebook discussed above, we can highlight its ability to connect people with others and business, provide a large market for marketing and advertising, put a more personal face to businesses, and bring businesses and customers closer through ongoing interaction.
The main weaknesses of Facebook is breaking the privacy boundaries and exposing users to criminals, cyber bullies, and people that would want to use their personal information for illegal activities.
The Future of Facebook
Facebook is constantly evolving. Last week it launched a new look aiming to give users more personal information about other people in their network right on their profile page. This can also be seen as another step to boost business social networking with their clients or potential customers.
The upcoming messaging tool – email, IM, texting combine - is moving towards pioneering a new away of integrating the way we communicate. It threatens to make email looks obsolete. Additionally, Facebook is exploring a range of future options such as going into the smartphone, browser, and tablet computer businesses.
Like any other IT companies (Microsoft, Napster, MySpace, etc) Facebook will lose its prominence at some point. However, one can definitely say that that point is not on the horizon yet.