The ACTE Column: Too much information?

Why business travellers must get to grips with the dizzying range of new technology out there.

IT IS A STAGGERING FACT that if Facebook was a country, it would be third largest country in the world. Now with over 500 million active Facebook users, creator Mark Zuckerberg believes it is almost guaranteed to top 1 billion users.

Twitter came to prominence in 2007. Twitter traffic is harder to track as many users connect through desktop software and mobile devices rather than through the website but it is estimated to be fast approaching 200 million users, with a phenomenal 300,000 new users per day, rivalling even Facebook.

But despite its astounding growth, Facebook has been lambasted for relaxing personal security settings; Twitter collects personally identifiable information about its users and shares it with third parties. However, influential blogger Robert Scoble suggests that despite security controversy, most people are not put off as they have no expectations of privacy to start with.

Whatever your view, it is a fact that the sheer might of Twitter, Facebook and other social commentary sites in our everyday life is unprecedented. But are social sites are relevant to business? It seems they certainly have their place and we should ignore them at our folly. Even a trivial complaint, if publicly broadcast, can threaten a corporation's reputation. Many large corporations employ PR teams and use software programmes to comb social sites for negative publicity and stem comment before it has the opportunity to cause damage.

As an example, a member of the public bought some crisps manufactured by one of the major brands. After finding only a couple of crisps in one of the packets, he posted a comment with a photo of the packaging on Twitter. In less than 24 hours he had taken delivery of a sizeable supply of complimentary product by way of compensation, which he Tweeted positively about, turning the issue into a constructive marketing exercise for little financial outlay. The complainant had not even contacted the company directly.

Many travellers use a variety of mobileaccessible social sites to review travel options before they travel and to share feedback on their return, which can potentially derail the corporate travel programme. The opinions of corporate travel buyers and managers are polarised. Some believe social sites to be divisive; others suggest that, used in the right way, some social tools can enhance the travel programme, depending on business culture, communications style and perspective. The fact is, however, that we cannot stop this runaway train so, like it or loathe it we have to understand what is out there and how we can harness it to our advantage.

It is imperative that we keep abreast of technological trending and learn how and when to use solutions to support and achieve our goals. Knowledge will enable us to ensure we utilise the best developments and mitigate the risk from the open access areas which will remain out of our control.

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