Cisco Blogs

The Power of Social Networking in Business

July 24, 2012 - 14 Comments

By Steven Shepard, Contributing Columnist

In late spring of 2012 my friend Gary Martin and I attended a photography workshop in Death Valley. Rather than fly into Los Angeles from the east coast, we chose instead to drive from Gary’s home in western Wisconsin to California.

The trip took four-and-a-half days; we drove through Minnesota, where we had the pleasure of visiting the one-and-only Spam Museum (yes, there really is one; that’s an article for another time); South Dakota; Wyoming; Utah; a tiny sliver of Arizona; and the southern cone of Nevada, before we made our way into California.

In South Dakota, we found ourselves on Highway 87, otherwise known as the Needles Highway. It winds through tall granite pinnacles (sometimes called ‘hoodoos’) that tower hundreds of feet above the forest. They’re massive and craggy and beautiful, so we stopped at a pull-off to photograph them.

As I mounted my camera on the tripod, I heard Gary ask, “Are those people up there?, pointing at the left-most pinnacle. I looked, and sure enough, there were two climbers on ropes, 30 feet or so from the summit. We photographed their ascent and when they reached the top, Gary said to no one in particular, “Sure would be nice if we could find out who they are so that we could give them these pictures.”

My Quest to Identify the Mystery Climbers

I took that as a challenge — and an opportunity to perform an online science experiment. That evening I brought up Facebook and posted a question on my wall: “Does anyone know anyone in South Dakota who (1) is a rock climber and (2) was climbing the left-most pinnacle along Needles Highway on April 21st? I took pictures of two climbers and I’d love to get copies to them.”

One week later, I received a message from a South Dakota outfitter, and the day after I received this from one of the climbers:

Hi Steve,
Thanks for hunting us down to share your photos. Nice job on those. It would be cool to see some more of the shots. And I’d be happy to give an interview. Evenings work best for me. Looking forward to chatting with you.

What happened? Well, a friend of a friend knew someone who was a climber in South Dakota, and that person knew of a local climbing club. A couple of days later, thanks to the digital tentacles of Facebook, magic happened.

What impresses me about this most is that I live in Vermont, but the climbers were in South Dakota. No question about it: social networking really does erase time and distance. Anyone who tries to tell me otherwise, or that using social networks is a waste of time, will get an argument.

Extend this thinking now to social networking as a business tool. Remember the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game that was so popular a few years ago? Social Media is the digital extension of that phenomenon, and if it’s applied properly, as a way to tell a story about a business, it can be very powerful indeed.

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  1. Geat Article. We'll be investing more resources in Social Networking. I think it is a fantasic source of traffic for our site.

  2. Steven, thank you for this interesting story. Theory of 6 handshakes become more credible in social network, but some people use FB for business correspondence and it really could be a vulnerability.

    • @Alex Kosty, thank you for sharing that insight. Clearly, security and privacy concerns have apparently been an ongoing issue with FB, as they periodically update their usage terms and conditions.

      • to David and Alex, much more than that, I think it is about people understanding how to behave online: what happens to what we put there, who can see it, how to find it, etc. Very interesting if you ask me... Rémi @orangebusiness

  3. Interesting Article. Social Networking is a great medium to popularize your business.

  4. @david : Amen! ^^ It's true that anthropology-style of analyzing the Web and particularly Social Media would help a lot. Since I'm a social media professional, I'm much more aware and active about how these tools work. But is it the same for other people, not that much into social media? For example, my brother who's in HR knows Facebook and LinkedIn. And that's it. It is ok this way? Maybe. Because he would definitely find usefull information in other tools like blogs. But he went for the quickest/most interesting source of information. And maybe it's better like that. Anyway, I'm just messing my head around unified communications and its "vital need" for all the types of populations. Thanks for your input David! :-) Rémi @orangebusiness

    • @Remi, what do you mean (envision) when you say "unified communications" -- relative to this social networking topic? The traditional definition seems out-of-sync with today's actual "in practice" execution. From my point of view, I've yet to experience true unified communications -- to date, it's been more like aggregated communications that are loosely coupled.

      • @david, Well, I was thinking about UC as another way to gather all the streams from social networks to have a unique point of contact for everything. But as you underline, I guess this is more utopia than anything at the moment... or maybe forever? Rémi @orangebusiness

  5. Hey Steven, Nice story indeed (and nice shot! ;-)) although you don't really talk about business cases. Don't get me wrong, I'm a social media evangelist but I wonder if there's a roof for such networking patterns when it comes to businesses. Stuff like "the Facebook kind of social networks is great for personal use but not so much for corporate. However IM rocks my day to day communications with colleagues". For example, we had an interview (here: for the telepresence system and it definitely helped the two colleagues who were using it. Anyway, that's my random thought! ;-) Rémi @orangebusiness

    • @Remi, thanks for sharing you point of view. I believe this is the first time that someone from Orange Business commented on one of our stories. We're glad to have you participate. Personally, I'm not very active on Facebook. That being said, I can see the value, given the results in Steve's story. My focus is on LinkedIn -- I've been a member since it launched.

      • @david, Thanks! I may not comment a lot but don't worry I'm a regular reader of Cisco blogs. ;-) Your LinkedIn versus Facebook case is pretty interesting as it underlines the fact that you need social networks (let's be honest, LinkedIn and Facebook have the same root pattern, the only difference is the audience shift). So it looks like we do need such social networks within the corporate sphere and then I guess unified communications... or not! what's your take? Rémi @orangebusiness

        • @Remi, agreed, the overall membership audience is somewhat similar between LinkedIn and Facebook. That being said, the key point of distinction is what I would call "preconceived intent." Meaning, when I visit LinkedIn I typically have a business-oriented objective in mind. In contrast, when I visit Facebook it's more about browsing updates from friends and family -- and encountering photos of kittens don't seem to be out of context. Moreover, I've never understood why people that invest in B2B advertising on Facebook are surprised by the apparent lack of meaningful engagement with their target stakeholders. Again, when you consider the motivation that drives most people to visit Facebook, there is likely little receptivity to business-oriented advertising interruptions. To me, there is no mystery here. It's common sense.

          • Exactly! And that's what makes me wonder: do we need every social networking tool for businesses? Because if we do (for example, Facebook can be useful for business purposes at some point) then this is just too much: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, IM, Office 13, Pinterest, YouTube, SlideShare, Instagram, other internal stuff, etc. I guess for the average Joe, all this sounds like a headhach. So will all this stay the way it is (Facebook=personal life // LinkedIn=corporate life)? or will some unified communications set of tools simplify it? because at some point, personal and corporate life merge... So, coming back to my very first comment: I don't think there will be a roof for networking within businesses. It will just merge with other tools (like Google+'s circles which allow you to segment your audience) to provide a clearer user experience with only one interface. After all, we don't have two faces (unless we're a spy ^^). In this case, the common sense you're talking about wouldn't be that common. ;-) But I may be wrong... Rémi @orangebusiness

          • @Remi, granted, there's a lot of logic and wisdom in the saying that "sometimes less is more." I tend to think of all these online social networking sites as tools that are at my disposal. Because I have studied the way that people tend to use each one, I selectively apply them within the context of what I'm trying to accomplish. My usage, therefore, can vary significantly from month to month. What's missing, in my opinion, from most corporate social media teams is an appreciation of "commercial ethnography" -- investing the time and effort to attain an understanding of why people participate and interact online, within the context of their business-oriented needs and wants. If we desire to fully harness the raw potential of these tools, then we must approach the usage potential like a social anthropologist – meaning, less focus on the actual tool itself and more focus on the application drivers (the apparent human motivations).