Social networking is moving into the business world at a speed that is taking most managers by surprise. After a spectacular start within the 15-24 age group during the past several years, business enterprises are beginning to adopt the technologies behind social networking for marketing, advertising, internal communications and outreach to extended stakeholders and customers.

If you and your staff have not yet taken note of social networking and its impact upon an entire generation of your guests and guests-to-be, do so without delay. Of all the trends using technology to evolve in the last five years, this is the one most underestimated by all but our youth, who use social networking in ways we could never have imagined.

Perhaps you have felt the impact of a negative review on TripAdvisor and know the power of social networking first-hand. That site attracts guests willing to tell of their experiences and posts guest-created videos that highlight their property visit experiences, good and bad. Several progressive chains have jumped on this bandwagon, controlling spin by sharing positive stories by guests who reach out to compliment a property or its people. Star-wood uses this technique to highlight Sheraton guest experiences on its Sheraton website's home page.

If the saying about a good comment finding its way to several sets of ears but a bad one traveling 10 times as far and fast was once true, today social networking makes the impact of a recommendation so forceful that thousands can easily find a single good or bad review or create buzz from a comment by an influential person in a moment's time.

You probably have been using some form of social networking technology for personal use. But few of us have implemented or allowed it to get behind the corporate firewall, despite its power and ability to change the way we relate to our many stakeholders. Let's review these social networking technologies:

Message/bulletin boards: common locations for checking notices relating to procedures, events and one-way broadcasts from management.

Blogging: a continuing journal with contributions by an individual or a whole department. Used for information, entertainment, training or documentation.

Online video: used for business communication by management, training and documentation.

Social networking sites: a tool for recruiting, finding resources or reuniting with old comrades. In the personal world, MySpace and Facebook are the overwhelming personal choices for a combination of 114 million unique members worldwide; Linkedin is the choice for business, with 12 million users.

Wikis: the newest way to grow access to information within a company, using tools to permit any member of any department to post documents, add to a corporate site menu, post project progress and more, all without need for an information professional or programmer. Best example in the outside world: Wikipedia.

Podcasting: the equivalent of personal radio or television shows, portable both in place and time. Any company or person can produce regular or occasional broadcasts for download and replay. Companies large and small are using podcasts for information dissemination, training and communication. The result is a wave of technology-supported communication tools that can help you and your property, management company or chain better communicate with its inside and outside stakeholders.

Embracing these technologies early in the “slope of enlightenment” will mark your organization as progressive and willing to reach out to communicate, reflecting well upon you and your fellow managers and creating good buzz inside and outside of your circle of influence.

By Jules Sieburgh and Dave Berkus. Sieburgh is a consultant with O'Neal Consultants of Washington, DC. Berkus is a partner in Hospitality Automation Consultants of Los Angeles. Reach Sieburgh at and/or 240-372-8630. Berkus's contacts are and/or 626-355 5375.

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