Does Facebook Use in the Office Lead to 'Social Notworking'?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-07-15

Does Facebook Use in the Office Lead to 'Social Notworking'?

Corporate employees may fritter away nearly 1.5 percent of their office productivity by using Facebook at work, according to a new study from Nucleus Research.

The research company interviewed 237 randomly selected office workers about their Facebook use and also found that the social network is being used as an alternative e-mail platform to Outlook and similar applications.

Seventy-seven percent of these workers had a Facebook account, with nearly two-thirds of those users accessing Facebook for at least 15 minutes a day during working hours.

Accordingly, Nucleus researchers noted: "It's not surprising that more than a few respondents identified with the term 'social notworking.' Given that 61 percent of employees access Facebook at work, companies can reasonably estimate a cost of 1.5 percent of total employee productivity."

This should further fuel contention over whether Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites hinder or help productivity in the workplace. Gartner analysts have also done studies on the issue, which sparks frequent debates.

Of those who do visit Facebook at work, 6 percent of those surveyed said they don't access Facebook anywhere else. This means, according to Nucleus, that one in every 33 workers built his or her Facebook profile during work hours.

Compounding that nugget is that 87 percent of those surveyed who access Facebook at work couldn't define a clear business reason for using it. It isn't hard to conclude that some of these users are bored in their jobs and are looking to socialize while on the clock.

Nucleus also found that of the 13 percent of users that had a business reason for accessing Facebook, most were not using it for personal networking, but to promote a business, product or event to Facebook users as part of a broader marketing strategy.

Facebook as an Alternative E-Mail Platform

This makes some sense when one considers that providers of CRM applications, such as Oracle, and RightNow, integrate with Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools to enable employees to improve sales, marketing and customer service activities. Nucleus is working on a similar office productivity study for Twitter.

Facebook is also subsuming traditional Outlook applications as the e-mail delivery application of choice for some users in some cases, Nucleus found. The problem with this, of course, is that Facebook isn't governed by corporate regulations and etiquette rules. Individual users decide what content gets shared via e-mail, and IT administrators cannot see what employees are sharing. Nucleus noted:

Savvy younger users recognize that traditional e-mail and even personal accounts like Gmail can be monitored by corporate IT, while Facebook messages aren't. For organizations that have invested in security software to secure sensitive information and limit their transmission via e-mail, Facebook can help users circumvent those controls, opening up the potential to violate corporate communication policies.

This can get out of control. Nucleus found one doctor friending his patients and a hospital where nurses shared patient information with other nurses, which exposed them and their employers to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations.

Ultimately, Nucleus cautioned that while some users in these business environments might see their productivity increased by Facebook and other social networks, companies should weigh the business benefit of lead generation or responding to comments on social networking sites about their operations or products against the potential productivity loss of all employees with access to those sites.

However, it is also important to note that 237 subjects is a small sample of the now over 250 million users of Facebook. ReadWriteWeb didn't like Nucleus' findings and countered them with results from the University of Melbourne, where researcher Brent Coker surveyed 300 workers.

Coker found that people who took small breaks between tasks were 9 percent more productive than their colleagues who did not. "It gives them a chance to reset their concentration," Coker said.

That means companies that block access to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook could actually be inadvertently decreasing employee productivity.

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