Facebook and portals in the workplace


Following close on the heels of SurfControl’s Facebook-is-costing-the-Australian-economy-$5-billion! story and some of the more balanced media response, Sophos, another internet security company, has released survey results saying that half of all companies restrict access to Facebook. Apparently 43% block Facebook outright, while 7% more give access only when it is deemed relevant. These figures may be correct, but without any methodology being released that I’m aware of, they are certainly suspect given the biased source of the data. I’m presuming that the figures are for the US only, as most non-US organizations are unlikely at this time to have explicitly banned Facebook, though its soaring international usage is putting it clearly on the agenda for corporate filters.

Interestingly, the survey apparently also noted that many of the other 50% of organizations were deliberately allowing Facebook either for the explicit networking value of the tool, or in order not to annoy their staff.

Richard MacManus has provided his usual insightful and considered views on the issue, noting that Facebook is effectively a portal that aggregates many applications, including many that are absolutely work-oriented. He points to an earlier post on Read/Write Web listing 10 work applications on Facebook among the hundreds of applications available, including To Do lists, Email, Calendar, Online Word Processing and Groupware. Of course the reality is that most people are using Facebook primarily as a work and social networking tool, and for many of the fun applications available within the platform, with work applications so far gettting little traction.

Of course most corporate IT functions are unlikely to select Facebook as the standard portal to web applications, though it is a possible future development path for Facebook. The issue for now is more whether it is appropriate to allow staff access to Facebook on company time.

As I said to the journalist from the Australian Financial Review when I was interviewed for their article on overly hasty Facebook bans earlier this week, the starting point should be high-level thinking about what kinds of personal networks will be valuable for the organization, and how to support these being developed. Only then can a relevant policy be implemented. I am sure there are many employees in some parts of organizations who are not likely to create value for their employers through their personal networks. In that case, it’s appropriate to make sure that they’re spending their time on relevant work tasks. In other cases a dedicated corporate social networking platform (see my review of the major players) is the best path. In others, it is useful for selected staff to be encouraged to use Facebook or other social networking platforms.

As I’ve noted before, all the most sophisticated organizations globally that I know are actively considering how best to support their staff in developing valuable personal networks inside and outside the company. If organizations are indeed thinking from this perspective, then the specifics of how they do it, and whether or not they give access to Facebook, are not relevant. There are many viable paths to supporting effective social networks in the enterprise.