By David Lawson
Businesses are tapping into the benefits of social networking websites
Is it vital to know that someone you met at a conference has just had a good lunch? It seems that way for millions of Twitter ‘followers’.
Many will also rush to upload the restaurant recommendation to a blog or start a debate about relative merits of the food on a networking site.
Are they wasting their time, or simply taking the next step in an online revolution? According to a 15-year-old who grabbed headlines as a summer intern at a City bank, trendsetting youngsters have already lost interest in social networking sites such as Twitter. Further criticism came from a US study, which said 40% of Twitter messages – or ‘tweets’ – were ‘pointless babble’.
Yet more than half the users in a Europe-wide survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) said Twitter gave them insight into other professionals’ lives and businesses. And two-thirds felt that professional networking on the web was vital to their career progression (see box).
The RICS is so convinced about the importance of online networking that it has commissioned an investigation by Remit Consulting, which will be published this month.
Remit partner Andrew Waller says a new form of communication is evolving, which offers swifter responses through online conversations rather than the delays associated with sending letters.
Chris Lees was initially a sceptic, which may seem strange when he has played a part in helping pioneer computer technology in the property industry as executive director of software consultant Calvis.
‘Why would I want to spend more time online instead of picking up the telephone or going for a beer when my day job means I am in front of a computer for much of the time?’ asks Lees.
But a conversion to fully-fledged evangelist of Twitter and networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook came after realising how many of his friends and business contacts overlapped between such sites. That overlap is increasing as he invites more contacts to cross over between the different services.
Lees admits the benefits of investing time and money in social networking cannot be quantified. ‘But the same could be said of marketing, advertising, research, networking events and conferences,’ he says. ‘These things deepen relationships, and relationships are at the heart of doing business.’
Connecting with clients can be another key function of online networking. As marketing executive with property software supplier Qube, Carey Metelerkamp is responsible for contacting existing and potential customers, and she draws on the full panoply of online tools.
She uses Twitter, for example, to publicise events, news and product launches to about 100 ‘followers’ – the name used to describe users who sign up to read particular Tweeters. After making announcements on LinkedIn, she received 200 enquiries for Qube white papers. Generating this kind of response would usually involve hefty publicity.
Participation in Twitter or LinkedIn also raises Qube’s Google rankings, which might otherwise mean paying specialists. ‘This could be a huge benefit to small property firms, which don’t have the time and resources to raise their profile,’ explains Metelerkamp.
‘The UK property market has not yet realised the potential,’ she adds. For instance, CREOPoint, a discussion site for US property executives, has no equivalent vehicle over here.
Some of the more well-known networking sites are less appealing, however. Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, for instance, are widely dismissed as being too consumer-focused, with little business-to-business potential.
But AIIM says they are still part of a new world of social interaction known as Enterprise 2.0, which is growing exponentially. Even where there is no business involvement, social networks have bred a demand for easy and immediate access to people and data.
Companies are coming under increasing pressure to replicate online networking as business tools. More than 70% of professionals told AIIM they found it easier to find information on the web than on internal systems. And a third of users said they wanted to use the same social networking techniques for communicating with colleagues as they do with friends and family.
Online crowd puller
Networking and job hunting go hand in glove, and online sites are often still considered as somewhere to display a CV in the hope of landing a plum post.
But employers also demand references, so agencies have developed a technique called ‘crowdsourcing’, which reverses the process by asking professionals in an online network to recommend candidates.
This requires enough members to generate worthwhile responses, but few enough to have the intimate connections for valid recommendations. Background noise is also an issue. How do you filter out the mass of jabberers?
Tim Latham saw rich potential by concentrating on the relatively small number of professionals involved in the property industry. But when he set up recruitment
site Prefio he still had to overcome other barriers, such as getting people to give honest opinions in public and protecting the sensitive information required by employers.
He relies on ‘referrers’, who can prove they know the business and commit to confidentiality. They are paid £2,500 for each successful appointment, while employers are charged £5,000. (David Lawson, Property Week) http://www.propertyweek.com/story.asp?sectioncode=359&storycode=3149111