Facebook at Work: Stop or Support?

Network World just ran a story reporting a survey of about 200 human resources professionals at major companies. They found that only one in four actively blocks employee access to Facebook and other social networking sites. Yet 60 percent of companies contacted have no specific policy regarding Facebook and MySpace et al during the work day. Could be they'll block them when management finds out what people are actually doing during the day. Or they could become part of the 10 percent of companies that feel social networking sites are “...valuable marketing, networking, and sales tools.”

Since Network World worries about big businesses, smaller companies rarely get included in such surveys. However, my experiences show that small businesses tend to be ahead of such trends because they have to be closer to their customers than most employees at at big company.

Smaller companies also tend to hire more young people (because over half of all new hires in the US are at small companies) and hire many high school, rather than college, graduates. This skews the age line even younger, meaning the new employees will be more immersed in the Facebook-YouTube culture. From what I've seen, a draconian ban on social networking at the office turns off the young and connected generation, sending them looking elsewhere for employment.

Survey respondents worried about productivity losses, since users admitted at least 30 minutes per day of “connecting” online. Smaller companies tend not to couch everything in terms of “productivity” because they're too busy getting work done. Productivity calculations are best left to idiot vice presidents in big companies who look at that rather than how the customers are being treated.

I've always maintained smaller businesses need to make a big effort to connect to customers more often and more personally than big companies do in order to thrive. That's why I recommend blogging even for the least technical products and services. How high tech is plumbing? Not very. Yet look at FlushTV some day and learn what some smart plumbers are doing online.

Facebook et al will connect and engage a certain percentage of your customers, depending on your business. Why not let one or two of your younger employees play with Facebook and build more connections to more customers. It will bring you more business than if they employees are playing Sudoku online.

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