Businesses are missing out on potentially valuable productivity improvements by failing to tap into the power of social networking, experts warned today.
Gartner said that, while corporate social networking remains "largely untapped", it expects such technologies to become increasingly important to the competitiveness of large enterprises in the future.
"Social networking software holds enormous potential for improving the management of large companies," said Nick Ingelbrecht, a research director at Gartner.
"However, work in this area is still immature and in the meantime companies should be aware of what is happening in consumer social networking and implement appropriate policies for employee use of such services on company time."
A Gartner survey undertaken across 18 countries and territories between October and December 2007 found that 38 per cent of more than 4,000 PC and mobile phone users connect to social networking sites via PCs.
This compares with less than one per cent by mobile phone only, and eight per cent via mobile phone and PC. Over half of respondents did not visit social networking sites regularly or at all.
Of those who did, male respondents tended to access mobile and online social networking services more frequently than females, and the most active users in terms of life stage and age were single people and teenagers.
Gartner's consumer segmentation model identifies three groups of early adopters most likely to use social networking: 'aspirers', 'young fun seekers' and 'tech savants'.
The analyst firm predicts that online social networking will come to be regarded as just the latest expression of a long-standing pattern of human behaviour that involves an increasing range of communications protocols and technologies.
"Social networking is arguably as old as humanity, not something new that has been invented for so-called 'digital natives'," said Julia Lin, project manager of research data and analytics at Gartner.
"However, social networking has found new forms of expression on the internet which has helped to reshape the purpose and protocols of social networking in the online world and beyond.
"How to apply this in a corporate environment will be the next major challenge."
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