Individuals should refrain from bringing old hierarchical structures into the world of online social networking. An example of reinforcing older structures is demonstrated when a social networker creates contacts solely with individuals of his or her same gender, race, or political ideologies. Social networks give people a fresh start in which they can create an environment free of prejudice and classism; this opportunity should be utilized and not tossed aside. The first step to becoming a useful agent of change is for individuals to recognize their biases. A person cannot overcome biases until he or she admits to having them and is able to identify the ways in which the biases are affecting his or her life. The second step is for individuals to listen to those around them to gain a broader perspective. Finally, the third step is recognizing that eliminating oppression is in everyone’s best self-interest.
In order to diversify contacts, individuals and organizations need to encourage the technology industry to create better access to Internet technology within minority and underprivileged neighborhoods. Currently, sixty-three percent of all American homes have broadband Internet connections, while only forty-six percent of African-American households do. Education is another area in which technological inequalities exist. Families who can afford to have computers at home are able to teach their children how to use Web-based technology to their advantage, while those without computers are left to learn from very basic computer literacy programs offered within the public education system. Because of this gap in equality, Internet-related processing skills need to be incorporated into the curriculum of existing education programs focused on Web-based tools.
When the public tries to address inequality, they usually turn to advice from experts to decide what to do; but these experts are usually a small and homogenous group of people that do not really represent the actual population. This point can be illustrated by the fact that the majority of politicians are white males, even though minorities and women make up a very large part of the population. This situation in which experts do not truly represent a population is also a particular problem within the technology industry, where women make up the majority of Internet users, but the expert panels of the most prominent technology conferences are only ten to fifteen percent female. Therefore, leaders within the technology industry need to ensure that the people they turn to for advice actually reflect the demographics of computer and technology users.
Some individuals believe that mobile Internet technology will eliminate the existing Internet-access gap and allow people to organize groups made up of individuals from varying economic backgrounds due to the relative affordability of “pay-as-you-go” plans. While mobile access to the Internet is widening the variety of users on social networks, individuals on “pay-as-you-go” plans are actually paying more per message and data transaction than their counterparts with mobile phone contracts, and thus they are not able to access the Internet as much as others because of this financial restriction. Additionally, cell phone companies determine what is going to be distributed on their network, so the free flow of programming and exchange of information that occurs online does not apply to mobile technology, for which applications have to be approved by the cell phone carrier before they are offered to cell phone users.
An organization must take several steps when it decides to incorporate social media technology into the company and create an online presence within social networks. First, it needs to clearly state its corporate policy regarding employees’ personal use of social networks at work. The company should also create a policy outlining standards for employees to follow when discussing their work online. The organization should try to be as open as possible on the Internet and allow its employees to be transparent as well, as long as the information being shared does not violate privacy, safety, or security standards in any way. The company should also establish a policy regarding after-hours expectations, particularly whether or not the company expects employees to check and respond to their work e-mails from home.
After the organization has set a clear organizational policy, it should dive into the world of social networking. The company should consider two options; first, it can create a profile on an existing social networking site. If it decides to do so, it should choose the social networking site that the majority of its target audience and employees already use. The second option is to create its own social network. If the organization joins an existing social network, it should also try to connect with similar companies to exchange ideas and strategies and perhaps eventually to team up on an important project.
If an organization is attempting to raise awareness or funds for a particular cause, it can use several existing social networking tools that make it very easy to do so. However, it is important that social networking tools should not replace traditional means of spreading awareness and fundraising, but should instead act as an online supplement. Individuals can easily show their support for a cause online, because often they are not required physically to do anything. For this reason, organizations should use social networking to coordinate participation in actual events, and not just for awareness-raising purposes. Many companies have difficulties with measuring the return on investment (ROI) from the use of social networks. While joining most social networks is free, participating on the network does require a fairly significant investment of staff time, and consequently, organizations will want to ensure that their employees’ time is being well spent.
The first step to determining the ROI of using social networking is to identify which actions the organization wants to encourage and which traits they want others to associate with the organization. Some examples of these traits would be satisfaction, expertise, loyalty, and trust. The goals the company sets should be clearly focused and include a timeline and numeric goal, such as 12 positive conversations about the organization’s expertise in a week. Individuals should then be assigned to search through the social networks for instances when the organization is mentioned and use qualitative metrics to classify and evaluate the data. When organizations first begin measuring the ROI, they should start surveying just a few services until they are able to establish a solid and effective strategy for observing, sorting through, and analyzing the data. After an organization can effectively determine its ROI, it will be able to see the areas it needs to improve upon, in addition to discerning how well its current social networking strategies work.