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.