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01:15 PM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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There's a Business Case (Maybe) for Social Networking Sites

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites can be fun and distracting -- but as more users of all age groups start to explore business uses for these sites, insurers and other businesses are starting to take them more seriously.

I recently met four school friends for a reunion brunch. Not college buddies -- these friendships go back to grammar school. And although most of us also went through junior high and high school together, we hadn't seen each other for more than 30 years. What reunited us? You guessed it: Facebook. About half of the Braeside School (Highland Park, Ill.) Class of 1966 are now reliving their pasts as part of a Facebook group.

Rather than a time-sucking distraction, my interactions with the group are field research, as I try to understand how channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can drive and grow I&T's business, and what they might mean for insurance companies. I'm not alone in this quest. According to "Collaboration and Enterprise 2.0: Work-meets-play or the future of business?" -- a new report from AIIM -- 31 percent of people older than 45 expect to use the same type of networking tools with business colleagues as with friends and family; 47 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds have the same expectation. AIIM (which defines Enterprise 2.0 as "Web 2.0 for business") says 27 percent of those in the 18- to 30-year-old age group consider Twitter an important "rapid feedback" tool for business, compared to 7 percent of those older than 45.

Hoping to buck the trend of my demographic segment, at press time (an increasingly odd phrase to use when commenting on social media) I had 273 followers on Twitter (join the crowd by following me at @KathyBurger). Another 245 are following I&T itself at @insurancetech. Granted, some of these followers have absolutely no connection to the insurance technology or media businesses. But many do belong to these communities -- and are proving to be a valuable source of leads, contacts, ideas and news.

Is there a measurable business benefit to all this? It's hard to say right now. According to a recent study from Pear Analytics, of 2,000 random tweets, 40.55 percent fell into the category of "pointless babble" and another 37.55 percent were "conversational." Only 8.7 percent had what Pear Analytics calls "pass-along value," and a measly 3.6 percent of the tweets qualified as news.

Still, AIIM says, "Planned spending on Enterprise 2.0 projects in the next 12 months is up in all product areas," which indicates a growing number of businesses at least sense an opportunity. But don't mind me -- I'm on Facebook trying to find my old bunkmates from sleepaway camp.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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