Hack it! SMBs rather be quick, dirty, and effective

Instant intranet? Forget spending thousands setting up an internal staff Web site, just use a Facebook group. Hacks go a long way for a small business.

At ZDNet's TechBizz SG earlier this month, I remember chuckling hearing the contrast in answers from the panelist representing small businesses versus the CTOs and folks that advise large corporations. The panelist basically added a healthy dose of: "Get real, just use the tool to get the thing done. No one has time for all this other overheads . Want to do a video conference? Just use Skype… no need to ask an IT team".

That reflects the reality for many small businesses. For example, do I really have to spend thousands of dollars on a full-fledged video conferencing system or can employees just use Skype and Web cams? How much will I lose by using Skype's consumer-quality connection and uptime versus a system with guaranteed service levels?  I would imagine not much.

Recently I've been thinking about how to announce things to all my staff. There are three restaurants and an office and not everyone checks e-mail. When we have company-wide announcements such as introductions of new staff, benefit changes, or status updates, it's hard to ensure that everyone sees it. I feel the more open communication a company has, the better (I don't mean tons of newsletters however). How do you also let the different team members share information with each other?

I thought hmm… do I need an intranet? Should I use Google Sites? Microsoft SharePoint? Thinking about permissions, folders, bland-looking UI, and the time it would take to customize it was daunting.

So I did something I'm sure will make every corporate IT professional cringe upon reading.

The main tool to unify communication for my business is a private Facebook group . Everyone already had their own Facebook accounts, the information posted in the group shows up on their newsfeed, little training had to be done for people to use it, and it supports photos, files, and links. While a Facebook group highlights generally the most recent items posted, it effectively accomplishes keeping folks up-to-date with each other and also allowing every employee to tap into the knowledge of everyone else.


What do you think the drawbacks of using Facebook in this context are? Privacy , intrusion into personal space, security, lack of archiving…? What are other good small business hacks to get some great functionality for free?