The Business-Technology Weave

Jun 20 2010   1:24PM GMT

Social Networking and the Workplace

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


Increasingly I see articles about “young” employees lobbying managers and senior executives about using social networking sites for work-related activity. These sites generally comprise (perhaps compromise?) a mash of party pics, all manner of stream-of-consciousness ruminations, drunken escapades, perhaps a little business/quasi-business.

Ah yes… when it comes to heads-down, empirical, meritorious and measurable Fortune 500 business results… I think… Facebook!

It’s not just Facebook, but also some measure of other sites, the Top 5 being: Facebook, MySpace, bebo, Friendster, and hi5 (source:

The argument is that this class of employee – the young, the hip, and the connected – considers social networking to be an integral, perhaps inseparable, part of their lives. I haven’t yet heard whether this class considers their workplaces’ archaic e-mail systems and telephones to be so unreliable so as to require the steady fallback of Facebook.

I hate to use a dirty word here, but it fits: That word is “discipline.” I see no real harm in allowing employees to take a break and pop over to a social networking site during the day, from time-to-time. This is quite similar to people surfing the web at work, and checking their personal e-mail accounts. Speaking of personal e-mail accounts, no one 5 or 10 years ago would have argued – would they? – that it would be more efficient to conduct work business through personal e-mails, as a twin-track to the company e-mail system, merely because you happened to be in your personal e-mail account at any given moment.  You’d have some extremely broken e-mail chains – and should the company have to assemble a coherent, chronological, sequence of communications in order to settle something with a customer or client, it would be that much more difficult.

Consider social networking sites: How easy to make an exposure on a wall, or even to lose important information: After all, the company isn’t making a comprehensive backup of Facebook communications for each employee, regarding company business. However, the e-mail system is backed up each evening. And by funneling corporate communication through a common system, legal and other issues of contention are well documented and managed as content within the control of the company (Content = that which your organization contains and controls.  Your organization does not contain Facebook, etc., data – nor control it!). Let’s make life easier, shall we? I’m not even particularly concerned about malware, which is the usual straw argument mounted, so that it can be shot down with Facebook’s and other’s “new and improved” spam guards and virus and breach protections.

Who cares about that if the argument doesn’t even get that far when we examine the question from a simple content management point of view, and where the efficiencies of communication (and protection) really are? And trust me: If you have just one employee make the wrong communication to an important client, while brain-toggling between “friending” and “businessing” if you know what I mean, you will be very sorry you didn’t take heed here. In the realm of risk, unmanaged possibilities become probabilities. Common sense, discipline, and adherence to best practices do have their place.

Advertising and Marketing

What about advertising and marketing?  Social networking can provide some exciting possibilities here – and yet… social networking is all about “seat of the pants,” ad hoc, timely, edgy, shoot from the hip communication.  It’s real time, too.  How do you protect branding?  Reputation?  A certain… business gravitas?  Who the heck is doing what?  Again:  “What is being done in the name of your domain?”  There may be far more peril and pain, than gain.  Be wary.

To me, using social networking sites (emphasis on “social”) for business is kinda like texting while driving.  Is it possible?  Sure…  Is it wise?  No.  Period.  When driving, focus your eyes on the road.  When conducting business, focus your eyes on business.

That is best done in the securtiy wrapper of authorized systems:  e-mail, business phones, company websites, sanctioned and company-supported blogs, and any other means and methods that are in the exlusive domain of the company’s control, or the control of sponsored and proper outside players such as contractors and service providers.  Oh, I guarantee there will be companies that go the social networking route – and if you think data breaches and bad judgments regarding communications are a problem now, just wait.  I think in a few years’ time we’ll see an entirely new focus regarding social networking and business:  It will be considered to have been a serious wrong turn… a crash through a guardrail while answering a text, if you will.

Review your company’s Acceptable Use and other pertinent policies. If they do not now accommodate social networking sites, make them address that now.

Even if you do allow social networking to be part of your arsenal of communications and collaboration, you need to detail exactly how and when that can be used.

June 20th: Today is Father’s Day of course. Also on this day in 1819, the Savannah becomes the first steamship to cross any ocean (the Atlantic).


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