Social media continues to grow, as do the discussions regarding its application within the realm of business and learning. There are various interpretations of social media, whether it is specific to networking and web 2.0 technologies or spans the use of any existing technology that enhances social relationships. Social media, however, has many benefits to business, especially the evident advancements in collaboration and communication. As social media technology continues to change and grow in popularity, companies will need to consider strategies to leverage its use in the workplace.

Let’s first review the term, “social media.” Social media is defined as:

media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques.

…the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.

This definition indicates a spectrum of technologies much larger than just Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites. Instead, it is all-inclusive of web and mobile technologies, including text messaging, web conferencing and video chatting, in addition to more traditional web 2.0 tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, YouTube). The most popular social media tools include: Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter, Yelp, Google Documents, wikis, Skype and online chat (e.g., GoogleTalk, AOL Instant Messenger, MS Messenger).

Having defined the scope of social media, we can examine its benefits in business and learning. There are two primary benefits of social media: enhanced communication and advanced methods of collaboration.

The ability to provide widespread and limitless communication has impacted the outcomes of significant events, such as the U.S. presidential election (Internet Users Turn to Social Networks during Election Time, Survey Finds) and the recent tragedy in Japan (How Social Media, Internet changed Experience of Japan Disaster).

Beyond enhancements in communication, social media has advanced the ability to virtually collaborate, which has impacted business and learning. Common uses for social media in business and learning include:

  • Blogs: Reading and writing thought-provoking articles, responding to user queries, providing feedback and sharing tricks of the trade.
  • Twitter: Sharing articles relevant to a specific topic.
  • Other online communities (e.g. Ning): Allowing a place for geographically dispersed people to connect and share knowledge.
  • Google Documents: Collaborating with others to write reports or work on other team projects.
  • YouTube videos: Finding and watching video tutorials.

Additionally, companies are considering and using these new technologies to help collect and manage knowledge across the organization. Many companies have begun investing in and implementing their own internal social media tools, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint, to encourage team collaboration.

This ever-expanding world of social media needs to be continually reviewed and incorporated into the business world as a means to accomplish work-related tasks. It has been common practice, both in the past and the present, to make these social media sites inaccessible in the workplace. Strict policies regarding Internet usage have been more frequent than not. Guidelines, while necessary, need to be continuously evaluated in order to reflect the ever-changing dynamics of the cyberworld.

Now that you have a more comprehensive understanding of social media, we want to hear from you. What other ways have you used social media for business or learning purposes? What other considerations do you think companies will need to make as social media continues to grow?

Marci Paino

Marci Paino

Marci Paino is a senior instructional designer at Intrepid Learning Solutions. She earned her Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) designation from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), M.A. in educational technology from San Diego State University and B.S. in organizational communication, learning and design from Ithaca College. Paino volunteers for ISPI, serving on several committees, forming the Emerging Professional Committee, and earning the Presidential Citation in 2009 and 2010. She is also a member of the eLearning Guild and American Society for Training and Development. Paino has written for PerformanceXpress, Performance Improvement Journal and Distance-Educator.com. She can be reached at editor@CLOMedia.com.
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