January 25, 2010

Social Networking Sites in the Labor and Employment Realm: Harness the Power or Be Left Behind

By Elizabeth Ebanks

Since the world wide web became public, the internet has been changing the way that companies communicate and conduct business. Social networking sites, online communities that enable people to communicate and build networks based on similar interests, activities, values, and ideas, have significantly contributed to that change. These sites can provide a number of advantages to employers, such as publicity and marketing, recruitment, and employment screening. Improper or careless use of such sites, however, may result in tort liability, can compromise confidential information and business reputation, and may lead to discrimination, privacy, and freedom of speech suits. While the use of these sites can present increased litigation threats to businesses and employers, the reality is that not only are they here to stay, but also that they are growing at an exponential rate. Employers can either harness the power of these sites and use them to their advantage, or be left behind while their competitors do so.

The following article describes the major social networking sites in today’s market, and the advantages and disadvantages of using such sites. It concludes with recommendations on how employers and businesses should treat these sites to reap maximum benefits in the current market.

The Major Players

There are hundreds of social networking sites, and that number is growing by the day, but four major players stand out: LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Employers should understand the intricacies of each site in order to effectively use them to their advantage and avoid their pitfalls.

LinkedIn. Unlike the other major free social networking sites, LinkedIn is primarily designed and used for professional networking and business-oriented endeavors. The site was launched in 2003, and enables users to join networking groups and add other users as “connections,” i.e., people they know or trust in a business setting. Members may utilize their connections and groups to network with other business professionals and find jobs and business opportunities. In addition, employers may use the site to list job opportunities and search for potential employees. Currently, all Fortune 500 companies have executives who are LinkedIn members, and over three-hundred law firms have a presence on the site.

Facebook. Facebook is a free, international social networking portal launched in 2004. With approximately 200 million users and over one billion visits per month, it hosts more users than any other major social networking website. Although originally targeted at college students, Facebook now allows anyone with a valid email address to sign up and access the site. Facebook features personalized profiles, current status updates, email, video and image sharing, group pages, instant messaging, and notes, which are similar to blogs.

MySpace. Launched in 2003, MySpace is another free social networking website with international use and popularity. The site primarily attracts 18-24 year olds, but users of all ages frequent the site. Although marketed as a “Place for Friends,” the site also features profiles of musical artists, companies, businesses, and other groups in addition to personal profiles. Users can write blogs, post photos, videos, and music, message other users, and join groups.

Twitter. Launched in 2006, Twitter is one of the more recent social networking sites and is rapidly gaining popularity among users of all ages. Twitter is a free micro-blogging site that enables users to post “tweets,” which are short messages with a maximum of 140 characters. Tweets provide succinct updates or web-related links and approximately three-million tweets are sent per day. Users have the option of making tweets public or only viewable to friends.

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