The Internet has changed the world in ways that many people could not have imagined. Nowadays, you can find an answer to almost any question if you “Google” it. Potentially, you can connect with everybody on the planet — via Linkedin, Twitter, Xing or Facebook. Under the influence of social media, elections are won and regimes overthrown.

A fairly recent phenomenon, social media is extremely easy to use, but it also presents new challenges. Few individuals or businesses have yet to look into employing it usefully and in a focused way.

Guidelines and regulations for all social networks are essential. Statements on the networks can have a positive effect as US President Barack Obama found to his benefit in his election success.

But the embarrassing example of former US congressman Anthony Weiner, who tweeted an inappropriate photo of himself to a college student, shows how quickly and irreversibly careers can be destroyed by the inappropriate use of social networks.

For business leaders looking to take their organisations global, a keen grasp of all these trends and issues is crucial. An important consideration is how to make social networks an effective business tool that employees can use in a global organisation.

Multinational companies, regardless of the advanced technical possibilities, regularly have to deal with inefficiently operating international teams. The opportunities that virtual teams offer are rarely effectively used.

Global companies need people who can operate across cultures. Today’s “global generation” not only needs technical skills, it also needs social competence and the ability to move fluidly with and in other cultures.

Unfortunately, international managers often lack the intercultural skills needed to create genuine connectivity, which is also useful to the company. As a result, many opportunities to create goodwill and further business relationships fall by the wayside.

Global thinking starts with intercultural thinking. But if inter-departmental collaboration already results in difficulties, how then can leaders achieve an internationally focused mindset?

The barrier to this is often an unconscious negative image of what one is unfamiliar with. People are anxious about change. This means that everyone is also subconsciously anxious about other people.

By investing in the right training, leaders can educate their people and future global leaders to become more aware of their prejudices. Managers and other employees can learn to give their personal mindsets a “reset”. This reset will help them to see the world through different “spectacles” and to find opportunities that they previously would never have spotted.

Here are some ways for businesses leaders to ready themselves to “go global”:

Increase connectivity

Taking an organisation “global” requires connecting easily with other parts of the world — and that means using social media. One way is to integrate social networking and virtual communication into the daily work structure of the organisation — from top management to rank and file workers.

Decide how many hours a week these “new” tools must be used. On integrating the new possibilities of social, virtual networks into the daily management of the organisation, leaders must be aware of two main barriers and how they can overcome them.

First, social or virtual networks are new tools to interact with others — and because they are new, some people might resist them. Second, if communication between people based in different locations is entirely virtual, the level of trust may not be high.

For the first barrier, do not hesitate — just create a schedule and start. People will soon get used to communicating in this novel way, and it will not be daunting as time goes by.

As for the second barrier, it is true that virtual networks can pose a challenge. Members of virtual teams, typically across locations, cannot get a sense of one another as people do in a real-life (physical) meeting. This can have negative effects.

Research has shown, however, that when the process of virtual communication included the sharing of personal information, tailored to the type of contact and the phase of cooperation, the result was positively influenced.

As an example, virtual team members can exchange information about education, interests, work experience, when they are easily reachable, and so on, to establish a conducive communication environment.

Next: More ways to think globally