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How online professional social networking can boost your business

How online professional social networking can boost your business

By Wayne Gibbins, Communications and Partnerships Director, Viadeo.

When the now well-thumbed article ‘Blogs Will Change Your Business’ was published as the Business Week cover story in April 2005  its author had no idea of the massive role social networks would play in shaping future business communications

Last year, an updated version of the article was published with the word ‘blogs’ in the title replaced by ‘social media’; however  the key point remained the same -   the socialisation of business is at the heart of the current professional social media movement. And nowhere is this more obvious than in professional social networking.

Of course, online professional social networking is not new. Over time however businesses and individuals have learned to use the sites more frequently and intelligently. They engage more within their chosen industries and use the sites as a platform on which they can showcase their experience and achievements as well as develop their on-going reputations.

A huge part of developing a successful online reputation is managing and cultivating contacts. Improving contacts, finding new contacts and maintaining on-going relationships with contacts is a pre-requisite for successful social networking but this does not mean grabbing every contact that is going. It should work in the same way that offline contacts work – you keep in touch with relevant people, people you like and people that will help you with your business activities.

The huge number of businesses and business people registering with social networks (Viadeo’s membership now stands at 30million users) is a key reason why these sites are now being increasingly used for recruitment purposes. They provide an instant insight into prospective employees, including their previous and current places of work, their skills and interests, their connections and whether or not they are recommended.

This is invaluable not only for the recruiter as a broader picture of a candidate than given through a CV or a corporate application form but also the recruited as a chance to showcase their achievements and professional status.

But there is so much more to professional social networking than recruitment. It is important to remember that social networks connect businesses at low cost. They can offer opportunities for discussion and support through the creation of specialised groups.

For example, on Viadeo there are over 631 forums in the UK alone, covering everything from accounting to tourism, academic research to public sector issues to patents and funding. Within these forums there are active communities, helping each other, offering support and advice and on occasions creating new business opportunities.

This is professional social networking at its most potent – a platform for collaboration and connections that helps users solve problems and discover new opportunities. Unlike other forms of social media, this is what social networking is geared towards.

In addition it can also enable businesses to break out of their immediate surroundings and develop closer ties with other businesses without the restrictions of geography. Although the majority of sustainable social networking relations tend to still be relatively local, cross border connections are an easier option through social networking than trying to wade your way through search results on Google.

Perhaps the best way to think of business social networking is as a hub. It is the core from which other social media and business activities can grow and interconnect and is perhaps the most important business communication tool to emerge in the last 15 years.

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