Why businesses should allow Facebook@Work

The rumour Facebook is building Facebook@Work is a further sign that social media is maturing but will bring the gap between its 2.5 billion users and near absence of senior executives into starker relief.

For this kind of enterprise-wide social network to work, these are the people to convince and convert.

It can be difficult to persuade decision-makers of the value of social media, including productivity gains, when many still believe it’s a fad or that there is no quantifiable return on investment.

And while general awareness around its impact has increased, low participation rates mean many senior executives have not experienced first hand the power of global networks.

I do believe there’s value in executives being present on networks and studies show social CEOs are considered innovative. But for me the benefits are less about this ‘transactional’ side (responding to a tweet with a tweet, for example) than how the experience of instantaneous connection impacts collaboration and influences thinking.

You’ve got to be there to experience how algorithms bring people together over shared passions or how a random conversation can lead to business synergies and valuable, real life connections.

That Facebook is going head-to-head with competitors like Yammer and Slack or established professional networks like LinkedIn, which in Australia boasts five million members, is just ‘business’. Like other big players (Amazon, LinkedIn, IBM) Facebook is trying to protect its turf and expand its market.

Being an established network of ten years with 1.25 billion users who know and understand its infrastructure, the network would likely translate well for consumers.

The challenge will be finding decision-makers who understand how these kinds of networks can be used to leverage employees’ skills and create a talent culture as well as enhance productivity.

The productivity benefits have been highlighted in numerous reports:

  • McKinsey says social media could increase productivity by 20-25 % by helping people search for and locate information, currently a huge time-waster.
  • A Microsoft survey of almost 10,000 workers in 32 countries found productivity, collaboration and innovation improved as a result of social media.

Yet many organisations continue to ban social media at work and see it as a time waster.

While excessive social media use in particular for personal reasons is a concern, employees are checking in on personal devices on toilet or lunch breaks anyway. There is something about ‘social’ that works for people.

Asking how to leverage social rather than the best way to block it might be a more interesting question at the boardroom table.

A recent Grant Thornton study showed:

  • Around 40% of employees would like their organisation to embrace social media.
  •  55% of executives believe social media will be an important component of marketing (a narrow view and one of multiple myths about its utility).
  • 66% see their company’s use of social media increasing.
  • 59% do not currently perform a social media risk assessment.

Of course companies need to consider how they deal with risks like privacy, security and records management.

As authors Patrick George et al state in Social Media and the Law (Lexis Nexis) “social media also allows, with relative ease, the leaking and misuse of confidential and sensitive business information in new and unique ways.”

The speed and amplification of risks have increased, but these can and should be managed. This does not require a new set of social media laws. Issues relating to acceptable workplace behaviour are, as they have been, set out in the employment contract.

Case law exists with respect to excessive and improper use of social media at work. Although the division between personal and private life remains a grey area, there have been numerous unfair dismissal cases around what constitutes appropriate behaviour. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment whether face-to-face or online. In other words, this is nothing new. The arena is different, not the principle.

Those responsible for ensuring the sustainable success of the business also need to consider the risk of not being there. 2.55 billion people already use social media and the billions of consumers about to enter the market have never lived in a world without it.

An enclosed ecosystem like Facebook at Work or equivalents could help executives deal with issues like who owns the account (the employer or employee) or managing corporate memory.

The success or failure of Facebook at Work is less likely to be a technical issue than whether or not today’s decision-makers understand that in connected economies and companies, tomorrow’s decision-makers will need to be connected communicators as well.

As with any business strategy, there’s no single or right approach as to how to go about it. But it must be on the agenda.

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