We live in the digital world and that affects our social relations and, of course, the business world.

One of the latest digital phenomena facing companies is the birth of social networks (Facebook, Linkedln, Twitter, Google +, Plaxo, etc.), which allow people to connect, communicate and share information in a new, revolutionary way.

Can the company’s employees collaborate no matter where they are located? Can the company get quick feedback from customers about its products or services? Do future employees know what the company they are going to work for represents?

Modern companies find answers to these and other questions in social media. Tools such as Twitter, Facebook or blogs are proving that they can be a real support for businesses for which an open attitude towards them is essential.

As with other advances in the world of technology, which have transformed the world of work, companies must adapt their culture and working methods to enable them to develop their full business potential.

Most companies want a presence on social networks, but it is one thing to participate in this phenomenon and another to be there at any price and in any way.

Social networks are communities of people who usually share some kind of interest or hobby. Technology becomes the vehicle that channels those interests and makes it possible to share them. The Internet only amplifies our social networks.
Social networks, understood as communities of people with common nodes, have always existed.

In companies, workers have a network of contacts that can be very useful for them, or for their colleagues, at a given moment, but the exchange of these contacts had until now been very limited and/or poorly organized.

However, companies are gradually incorporating computer and management systems that make these contacts easier.

Taking advantage of this network of contacts can have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line and productivity, but it can also have adverse effects.

Among the benefits of social networks we can list the following:

Productivity: Social networks can boost productivity, for example when used to improve customer service.

Collaboration: Networks are technologies that encourage teamwork and collaboration. The use of networks will continue to increase as teams disperse and the opportunity to work in one place decreases.

Knowledge Management: Companies have long sought effective ways to capture the knowledge and ideas locked in the minds of employees, and through social networking they are finding new and creative ways to systematize those efforts.

Innovation: Companies determined to improve the value of their innovation efforts are looking for new ideas beyond their specialized research and development teams. The advent of social networks has given these innovation efforts a huge boost, allowing companies to build channels to customers, experts and independent inventors.

Employee alignment and commitment: Keeping employees engaged intellectually and emotionally with their work is an essential factor in the success of the company. Social networks allow employees to be kept in touch with the company’s vision and mission, a two-way dialogue with employees can be established and enhanced, and team perception can be reinforced.

Recruitment: Social networks, especially career-oriented ones like LinkedIn, can be useful for making business contacts and recruiting future employees. However, in the online world, both organizations and individuals should exercise caution to ensure that they are dealing with someone they trust.

Reputation: Word of mouth has been a classic method of spreading the good (or bad) reputation of companies and is now being complemented by the use of networks. But, in any case, being on the networks gives the image of being modern, up to date, open and receptive.

Marketing / public relations: Many companies believe that “branding” is the most important use of social networks. That is why both top executives and companies enter these networks through Linkedln, Facebook or Blogs, for example, spreading their Social Responsibility actions and opening communication channels with clients or other people or organizations interested in the company.

However, the above positive effects of the use of social networks can be overshadowed by the following adverse consequences:

Loss of Productivity: As with Internet use, there is little a company can do to restrict the use of any social network to employees.

Even if you cut off access completely, employees can still use their iPhones and BlackBerries to connect to networks. With increasing popularity, employees may find it difficult to distinguish between work and personal use of networks.

Reputation: Anyone can post opinions that stain a company’s reputation on a social network, leaving many people with negative messages about the company. Just as happy customers write good reviews of a product, annoyed customers will also write about their bad experience.

These comments can be seen by thousands of people in a short time and affect the image of any company in weeks or even days. How can we protect ourselves in this type of situation? The recommendation is to face it with honesty; on the Internet we have the tools to be able to make clarifications, propose alternatives and if necessary offer apologies.

Security: One of the constant dangers of using social networks has to do with the risk of external intrusions into the company’s computer networks, which can lead to the loss or theft of confidential data, as well as disruption of the computer service. Although security software can prevent this type of risk, only by changing workers’ behaviour can an important step be taken in the field of IT security.

Taking into account the above risks, makes us aware of the need to have a policy of social networks at work, a set of guidelines to guide the use and abuse of such networks, channeling its use in a positive and creative direction that benefits employees and the company.

There is no turning back on the use of “social media”, so the challenge is to discover what value it can have in the organization and to accept its productive use.