Laboratory managers can benefit greatly by establishing a corporate social networking site or utilizing an already existing one. Think FaceBook on a corporate intranet. The software isn't the challenge. Rather it is defining your objectives and strategy. Managers need to decide what they want to accomplish using corporate networking sites to enable employees to interact.

Employees at smaller organizations may interact sufficiently using more traditional means than social networking technology. However, employees of large firms, often with laboratories and other facilities scattered across the globe may not have other effective means for employees to interact other than e-mail which often does not provide the best forum for exchange of views among a members of a group.

Strategy

An effective strategy for social networking requires an organizational culture of employee teamwork and interaction. While e-mail can serve admirably to communicate information, it is less effective at promoting interaction between multiple individuals and discussion of various topics. Social networking should complement the way people already work and not be an attempt to force people to change the way the work.

This said, managers should begin by deciding what objectives they want to achieve through organization networks. This should be their primary focus rather than a focus on what particular technology to implement. Of course, suitable software is essential and should be as easy to use and transparent as possible. Several vendors provide social networking software and using Internet search engines can identify them.

Employees or organization members must want to spend time on the social networking site (a reasonable, but not excessive, amount of time). For this to happen, the content must be useful and the technology easy to use. I have seen managers attempt to promote use of social networking by posting on topics of little interest to their staff members. This results in killing interest in a new social networking site rather than promoting it.

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When instituting a social networking site, managers should clearly communicate the rules for using the site. Ground rules for site users are essential for several reasons. The site should promote team spirit, not divisiveness. Therefore discussion of certain topics should not be allowed. Such topics may include politics, promotion of purely social agendas unrelated to business and discussions that may be considered harassment or defamation and thus illegal. Vigorous disagreements should be reserved for personal discussions. Anonymous posts should not be allowed.

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Having rules means enforcing them. Employers are legally liable for posts on their social networking sites. Therefore, people should be assigned to monitor the sites to identify and promptly delete posts that violate organization policies on use of the social networking site.

Information Security

Information security is a common and valid concern. Trade secrets and other confidential information can be easily leaked to outsiders through an organization's social networking site unless precautions are taken. Even on an organization's intranet, access to some information should be restricted. For example, a team working on a hot new project may want to limit access to information and discussions to only team members and others with a strong need to know or who can provide valuable input. This can be accomplished by requiring team members to log in using passwords. Another approach is to set up multiple social networking sites with some having limited access. For example, some employers have set up social networking sites for retirees. Such sites can allow organizations to communicate news of interest to their retirees.

Retiree social networking websites can allow managers to tap the expertise of retirees. For example, retirees could post their resumes. Managers can keyword search these resumes to identify retirees that could serve as consultants on particular projects or post announcements that retirees with a specific type of expertise are needed. (This topic will be discussed in more detail in a subsequent blog.

Measures of Success

A social networking site nested in your organization's intranet is a waste of money if people don't use it. Measures of success can include the number of active users, number of page views, the number of questions or topics people post and the response rate to these posts. I know that I am always disappointed when I post a topic or question and there is little or no response.