People Innovation Excellence

Social Network Fever : Spreads to Professions

When social networks first appeared a decade ago, it was widely believed the phenomenon would be limited to crazed teenagers already captive to online games and video game consoles. Most of the technorati in Silicon Valley and Wall Street felt this was a blip on the horizon, and their full attention was occupied by search engines, search engine marketing, and ad placement. But when the population of social network participants pushed into the hundreds of millions, even the technical elite woke up to the fact that these huge audiences were not just a bunch of teenagers. Instead, a wide slice of American society was participating. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO at the time, expressed the conviction as early as 2007 that social networks would have some staying power, although he tempered that outlook with reservations about just how long that would be, given their youthful appeal and faddish nature. This was just before Microsoft paid $250 million for a small stake in Facebook, which valued the company at $15 billion. Trying to sound convincing, the month before his company spent $1.65 billion for YouTube, Google CEO Eric Schmidt asserted his belief that despite prevailing opinion, social networks were a bona fide business opportunity.

Today, the social network craze has taken a firm hold. In addition to the hugely popular social networks aimed at the general population, such as Facebook, which now has over 1.7 billion active monthly users worldwide, there are a number of social networks aimed at more specific groups. Take LinkedIn, for example, probably the best-known and most popular business network site. LinkedIn has more than 450 million members in over 200 countries, representing 170 different industries. In 2016, according to LinkedIn, it typically has around 110 million monthly unique visiting members, including about 60 million who visit using a mobile device. In May 2011, LinkedIn went public in what was, at the time, the biggest Internet IPO since Google, raising more than $350 million and giving it a company valuation of $8.9 billion. In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for a whopping $26.2 billion. Although the price tag gave many analysts pause, the acquisition is a logical fit, giving Microsoft a long-desired social media presence as well as a tool to promote its Microsoft Office programs to professional audiences. LinkedIn’s stock price rebounded from 3-year lows in the wake of the news, and reached $192 per share in September 2016. LinkedIn allows a member to create a profile, including a photo, to summarize his or her professional accomplishments. Members’ networks include their connections, their connections’ connections, as well as people they know, potentially linking them to thousands of others. How members use LinkedIn depends somewhat on their position. Top executives use the site to promote their businesses, while job seekers use the site to find a new position. Firms looking for new hires use the site as an important source of professional talent. LinkedIn hopes that its more influential users will make use of its retooled LinkedIn Publishing blogging platform to connect with audiences. And in response to the increase in freelance jobs and growth in the “gig economy,” LinkedIn unveiled its ProFinder marketplace in 2016, which allows consumers to find independent service providers for part-time or temporary jobs.

Those with a particular interest in the stock market can choose from a crop of financial social networks that allow users to connect with other investors, discuss issues focused on the stock market, and sometimes just show off investing prowess. For example, Stockr is a community where stock investors exchange ideas and track the performance of financial bloggers. The Motley Fool, one of the best-known online stock investment services, started its CAPS stock-rating social network in 2006 and now has over 180,000 members.

You can find similar social networks for a variety of specific professional groups such as health care (DailyStrength), law (LawLink), physicians (Sermo), human resources (, and Quibb (technology professionals). These social networks encourage members to discuss the realities of their professions and practices, sharing successes and failures. The rapid growth of professional social networks, linked to industry and careers, demonstrates how widespread and nearly universal the appeal of social networks is. What explains the very broad attraction to social networks? E-mail is excellent for communicating with other individuals, or even a small group. But e-mail is not very good at getting a sense of what others in the group are thinking, especially if the group numbers more than a dozen people. The strength of social networks lies in their ability to reveal group attitudes and opinions, values, and practices.

Professionals who join social networks need to be careful about the content they provide, and the distribution of this content. As business social networks have grown, and as the number of participants expands, employers are finding them a great place to discover the “inner” person who applies for a job. A 2016 survey by CareerBuilder, the most widely used employment site in the United States, found that 60% of employers use social networks to screen job candidates, a large increase from 52% in 2015 and a far cry from the 11% recorded in 2006. The survey found that 49% of hiring managers who use social media to vet candidates discovered information that led them not to hire an applicant, such as provocative material posted by the candidate, information about the candidate drinking or using drugs, or criticism by the candidate of former employers. On the other hand, 32% of managers found information that led them to hire someone, such as evidence of a professional image, well-rounded personality, creativity, and good communication skills. Based on this survey, it’s wise to use social networks’ maximum privacy settings and release to the public only the most innocuous content. Likewise, be cautious of social networks that do not provide “take down” policies, which allow users to remove embarrassing materials from their pages.

Source: E-commerce 2017: business, technology, society / Kenneth C. Laudon, New York University, Carol Guercio Traver, Azimuth Interactive, Inc.13th EDITION.Boston: Pearson, 2017

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