Businesses have had to find new ways to network with clients as COVID-19 continues to spread and guidelines for avoiding public gatherings remain in place.

According to a study by Iowa State University, as people continue to work remotely, companies have traded in lunch and dinner meetings and golf course outings for social media.

Raj Agnihotri, dean’s fellow in marketing at ISU’s Ivy College of Business, said in a story published on the university’s website that while the concept of using social media to network isn’t new, the coronavirus pandemic has made it more relevant. Agnihotri works with businesses looking for guidance on how to best use social media.

“The single most critical question businesses have from a revenue perspective is how do we maintain relationships with our existing customers or how do we reach new customers in this new world,” Agnihotri said. “For years, they have conducted business with a good old handshake, but now there’s a new way with likes and comments. Things have changed.”

The study’s findings were published by the journal Decision Sciences. In it, Agnihotri and Patricia Daugherty, the Debbie and Jerry Ivy Chair in Business, along with colleagues at Monash University, Louisiana State University and State University of New York, looked at how sales and service employees use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to develop and maintain their social capital.

According to Agnihotri, the research found three things businesses should watch for.

  • Time management is key. The time employees spend on social media must be focused on customer relationships and not items of personal interest.
  • Managers need to trust employees and not watch their online activity minute by minute.
  • Being responsive is critical when customers post a comment or question. If businesses do not intend to respond, they should reconsider using social networks.

The study did not focus on establishing boundaries when using social media, but Agnihotri said maintaining an innovative work environment is critical.

“It’s very hard to impose strict guidelines for social media,” he said in the article. “Companies need to provide training and a support structure for employees to properly, ethically use social media.”

According to Daugherty, the immediacy of social media is critical to meet the changing expectations of business clients.

“Business customers' expectations have escalated in recent years. They expect even more in the current pandemic situation,” Daugherty said. “Updates and information related to orders – including potential delays or substitutions – are essential to supporting supply chain operations. Immediate communication allows customers to adjust plans as necessary.”