Companies that close networking doors jeopardize their future

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There has been extensive coverage in the Australian media today about a press release from internet filtering company SurfControl, in which they make up a spurious figure that the use of Facebook on company time is costing business up to A$5 billion a year. This is based on 800,000 employees spending an hour a day on Facebook, numbers which have appear to have no basis other than the imagination of the report’s authors. SurfControl sells software to block employees using sites such as Facebook. Their vested interest has resulted in a highly inaccurate and distorted view of the use of social networks in organizations being presented in the media.

Of course, this is not to say that there aren’t plenty of company employees working on improving their social lives while they draw a salary.

However, the more important side of the story is that in a knowledge-based economy such as Australia, effective networking is absolutely essential to corporate productivity.

As a research leader at the University of Virginia’s Network Roundtable, the world’s premier organization studying organizational networks, I both do extensive research on networks in and across companies, and have access to the best research globally in the field.

Research at institutions such as Harvard and M.I.T. has consistently shown that employees’ personal networks are in many cases the single biggest factor impacting their productivity and ability to contribute to the company.

This is why organizations such as IBM, Procter & Gamble, PricewaterhouseCoopers and most world-class organizations I am aware of are focusing on how they can HELP their employees to network and build connections inside and outside their organizations, not hinder them.

Deloitte Australia, for example, actively uses Facebook inside its organization, encouraging its staff to use the application to connect and keep in touch. It’s likely that Deloitte’s business performance would decrease rather than increase if it suddenly blocked Facebook.

The 70%+ growth per MONTH of Facebook in Australia over the last half-year is simply letting Australia catch up. Recent research I released shows that in May, usage of Facebook in Australia was around one quarter of that in the US and UK. Australia needs to catch up in its networking, NOT stop in its tracks.

It’s true that many companies will choose to use corporate social networks that can be tailored to their own needs. However for other organizations, Facebook and other public social networking software can help their employees be better connected, have access to more useful resources, and contribute more to their companies. This needs careful management, but the benefits are there for companies that encourage their employees to connect in useful ways.

Let’s not forget that in the mid-1990s many companies banned email because they thought it was a waste of time. Those companies who today tried to stop their employees using email would hardly be very productive compared to its competitors.

So let’s forget highly dubious statistics and scare-mongering. Companies who block their employees from connecting risk being left far behind.

[UPDATE:] I have already done radio interviews today on this topic on 2GB and 3AW, with another one scheduled for 5:50pm today on ABC Canberra. Hopefully this will do a little bit to balance out all the media coverage that is promoting the idea that using social networks is necessarily a waste of professional time.

  • Iluvmedia

    Surely this comes down to what people are engaging with. Are they engaging with work related matters or social matters during work time? Time spent on purely social matters is not value creating for any organisation – I think this raises an interesting point. How do corporates such as the Deloittes of the world encourage social networking, and monitor it (without seeming to monitor it)? Corporate based utiity of these sites may well be the thing to open Australia’s cultural inhibitions –
    thanks, iluvmedia
    PS this is a good site, where’s all the comments from your readers? – someone’s got to keep you honest

  • iluvmedia,
    Come on: if you know/read anything about business, then you’re reading about how important building a network is – and how important relationships are to business. There is no longer a border between business and social – these are the same thing today. We develop personal relationships with parents at our kids soccer games, and then we do business with them (possibly).
    Our businesses can only benefit from more personal relationships – and these are improved through social networking sites. Anything I do outside work has a positive impact to my work – because my work involves people – and not sitting alone.

    That’s my .02 rant.

  • Thanks for the comments on my corresponding post at acidlabs. Nice to see someone is fighting the fight. That said, you are a single voice that’s being paid attention to, whereas the scaremongering is endemic.

    The rest of us in this space – me, Laurel, Bronwen and the very many other trying to convince their organisations and clients that social computing has business benefit – are not being called upon to add voices. It’s not as if we’re hard to track down (I publish full contact details on my blog).

    I don’t imagine that tomorrow, News Ltd. will call any of us, nor write a piece saying they were overly heavy with their story. And it’s not like we aren’t without profile – I’ve been quoted in overseas media and done several speaking gigs so far this year about business benefits of social computing an am speaking at Office 2.0 in San Francisco in two weeks on similar subject matter, Laurel is chairing a major Australian Enterprise 2.0 conference and Bronwen runs a successful Web 2.0 business.

    As a trained journo myself, I think these pieces are irresponsible and seriously lack balance.

  • I agree with kolya, there is no longer a border between business and social networking. It’s all the same thing, especially when something such as a blog is concerned. Now surely one can plainly discern those that are passing around potty humor and ‘wasting’ corporate time/money between blog posts and those really interested in progress and innovation. It’s dawn of yet another new age in technology this meld of business and social networking,..
    In my humble opinion I most certainly agree with one’s productivity lowering from disallowing one to engage in activities that support self-esteem, self awareness, and empowerment.
    I love the future.

  • iluvmeida

    Sinister 1k,
    I’m intrested – you say ‘Now surely one can plainly discern those that are passing around potty humor and ‘wasting’ corporate time/money between blog posts and those really interested in progress and innovation.’
    … for a larger corporate I’m not so sure. If you were an employer how would you ‘plainly discern’?

  • Thanks Kolya, I was going to say the same thing… 🙂

    iluvmedia/ sinister1K – this is a great topic which cuts to the heart of how companies are managed. How much trust between employers and employees is appropriate and possible? We’d all like to think lots, and in the most effective companies that works very well. However in some environments it doesn’t…

    Stephen – there is much to be done. Journalists in the US actively seek out commentary from bloggers on all topics. Australia is several years behind on a number of fronts, so the issue is closing the gap rather than letting it increase. Let’s catch up sometime.