Sydney Morning Herald article claimed that Facebook "may be costing Australian businesses $5 billion a year." The quote is from an analytics firm called SurfControl, in a report which calculated "that if an employee spends an hour each day on Facebook, it costs the company more than $6200 a year. There are about 800,000 workplaces in Australia." Update: CNET reports on a poll where 43 percent of workers said that their employer blocks Facebook access completely.Earlier this week a
I appeared on a breakfast business news TV show this morning, here in New Zealand, to discuss the SurfControl report. This post was written the night before, to get my thoughts together before going on the telly. Although in the end I only got to speak twice - and I barely touched on the main benefits of social networks in the workplace.
In response to the SurfControl report, others have already pointed out that you can make 'slacker calculations' about anything - email, IM, etc. And to be frank, yes employees can waste time on social networks (or blogs) while they're supposed to be working.
But let's look at the positive benefits of social networks. As the Face Reviews site noted, Facebook "can actually make employees more efficient; streamline connections and communication, etc." It also points out that Facebook is fast becoming the ultimate aggregation platform and so arguably it is more time-efficient. Let's look at those points more closely...
Facebook Work Apps Are Collaborative Tools
Facebook actually has many work-related apps. Read/WriteWeb's Josh Catone wrote a post called Top 10 Facebook Apps: Work in July, during R/WW's facebook Week. Josh noted that the Facebook platform has over 1800 apps - with the most popular ten applications reaching over 46 million users. To break it down more, there are about 1700 Facebook applications with over 100 users and about 800 with over 1000 users (source: Facebook).
The 10 Work apps that Josh covered included:
- To Do
- Online Office
- Online word processing
All of the above are useful Facebook applications that can be aggregated onto the same page. Also, the best of these Work apps can provide collaborative benefits not available on desktop apps. For example, the 30 Boxes calendar app includes SMS reminders and a built-in to-do list function. You can also share upcoming events to your Facebook profile.
A commenter on the above post pointed out that the Zoho online office app on Facebook is a collaborative tool. You can work on Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations, and then request collaborative feedback from a group in Facebook - more info on that here.
So, there are Facebook apps that can help you get some work done. Although let's be frank, this isn't the main reason you join a social network like Facebook. The main reason is to network with people.
Networking with people usually means joining groups of like-minded people, or even just people with whom you share a common interest or cause. For example Read/WriteWeb has its own group, with over 800 members. Admittedly we haven't done much with the group yet, but we could use it to collaborate with our readers or provide regular messages.
Groups on Facebook let you network with your colleagues and business associates, which has many intangible benefits - it may even lead to new business. For example, being a tech publisher I'm part of the The Semantic Web - Benefits, Education & Outreach group and the Web 2.0 (Entrepreneurs) one.
Facebook currently has more than 31 million active users. While it started out as a college social network, the fastest growing demographic is those 25 years old and older - the working generation.
However the top 10 apps on Facebook indicate that it's still used as a social 'play' tool. The top 10 applications include: Top Friend, Graffiti, iLike, Fortune Cookie, Horoscopes, X Me, Video, SuperPoke!, Free Gifts, and Movies, all with more than 3 million users.
So clearly Facebook can, and certainly is, being used at least a little bit each day to 'waste time' at work. And companies are rightly concerned about limiting such use. Most corporates these days have an Internet use policy, to manage that. But let's not forget the positive benefits of Facebook at work - its aggregation of apps and people, the collaborative tools available, the groupware.
But more importantly -- social networks are part of our media climate these days, so looking at just the cons of them is missing the bigger picture. Facebook can and does have many networking benefits, that ultimately may help the bottom line. And if it doesn't, well give your employees a break - they are only human!