In September 2007, Peninsula, an employment law firm, found that British businesses may be losing $260 million a day from employees using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook [source: BBC News]. The survey also found that British workers spend an estimated 233 million hours a month on social networking sites [source: BBC News]. Peninsula subsequently recommended that companies ban the use of social networking sites at work.
Peninsula isn't the only one concerned. With the rise of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, businesses are voicing concerns that these sites might be slashing away at productivity. Many social networking sites now offer a variety of features, including an online profile, messaging services, video, photo albums, games and more. The full-featured nature of these sites means that users can easily idle away a few hours by messaging co-workers, watching a new music video or reading friends' blogs.
One survey claimed that each American wastes an average of two hours a day at work [source: LA Times]. That translates to an estimated loss of $759 billion a year, though that same survey showed that Americans wasted few work hours than two years earlier [source: LA Times]. Such statistics reinforce the notion that workers around the world are costing their employers dearly by playing online. Some companies have banned the use of social networking sites at work, frequently by blocking access to those sites. But despite fears about time wasted, U.S. workers are, according to the United Nations, first in worker productivity [source: LA Times]. There is also a growing movement in some business circles that advocates taking advantage of the social networking phenomenon and using these immensely popular services as a tool to facilitate business.
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, candidates have made heavy use of social networking sites, notably to rally supporters, share videos and solicit donations. LinkedIn, a social networking site for professionals, markets itself directly to the business world and is the largest social network of its kind [source: CNNMoney.com]. LinkedIn allows entrepreneurs and professionals to post profiles, make contacts and hunt for new jobs. Several presidential candidates have joined, including Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee, while other candidates are expected to as well.
Some companies, notably several large multinational corporations, have used Facebook to facilitate cooperation between employees, especially those operating in different countries. Other companies have established their own in-house social networks, designed to allow employees to get to know one another. And many companies, including HowStuffWorks, maintain an official presence or account on social networking sites in order to better connect with users.
Some commentators say that the use of social networking sites in the work environment, whether for work or as a time waster, is only to be expected as the increased use of technology, longer hours, teleworking and BlackBerry devices mean that some people are working or on call even during their supposedly "off" hours [source: LA Times]. For many workers today, there's little separation between time spent working and time off. Consequently, socializing and official company business may take place simultaneously on the same Web site or service.
Next, see how much of a problem social networks are for businesses.
Are social networks a problem for businesses?
Although surveys clearly show that workers in the United States and Great Britain spend a significant amount of time on social networking sites, workers have faced distractions before. The Windows games Solitaire and Minesweeper were once the bane of many an office manager. Like social networking sites, both were considered quite addictive diversions. But while the fears about wasted time and lost productivity might sound familiar, social networking sites present other new concerns, namely computer safety and privacy.
Despite the privacy features offered by many social networking sites, some people don’t take advantage of them, and even for those that do, information often manages to leak out. Numerous stories exist about people losing their jobs or being denied employment for information posted online, sharing inappropriate photos or criticizing a boss in a Facebook group. The bleeding together of work and free time likely doesn’t help. People may put information in their “work” social-network profile that belongs in a more personal profile. Some sites, like Facebook, allow you to show a limited profile to certain people, helping to make that distinction more clear.
While the information that someone posts in an online profile can seem innocuous, it can pose a serious risk of identity theft. Birthdays, so often posted online to remind friends, are sometimes used to recover forgotten passwords or to confirm someone’s identity with a financial institution. Remaining selective in what information is posted and using the privacy features offered by social networking sites helps to reduce the risk of identity theft.
Though some companies have embraced social networks as a business tool, it can be difficult to confirm that someone is who they claim to be online. At the very least, companies attempting to do business or make contacts through social networks risk opening themselves up to spam and virus-laden attachments.
In August 2007, the Trades Union Congress, a British federation of unions, said that “employers need to face up to the age of Facebook” [source: TUC]. The TUC claims that a complete ban on social networking sites is heavy-handed, while explicitly stated company policies can help curb use of social networking sites. Clearly articulated guidelines and consequences for excessive use would, the TUC claims, create a more comfortable work environment.
It seems many companies, if not embracing social networking sites as a team-building tool, have taken up the TUC view. Deloitte, a major consulting firm, has all of its employees on Facebook. Other companies are following suit while also educating their workers of the dangers that can come with fraternizing online.
For more information about social networking sites and the workplace, please check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- "Employers need to face up to the age of Facebook." Trades Union Congress. Aug. 29, 2007. http://www.tuc.org.uk/law/tuc-13641-f0.cfm
- "Facebook 'costs businesses dear.'" BBC News. Sept. 11, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6989100.stm
- "Obama Uses LinkedIn to Plug Into Entrepreneurs." CNNMoney.com. Sept. 12, 2007. http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/newstex/IBD-0001-19538586.htm
- Czekaj, Laura. "Workers fired over Internet postings." Cnews. Jan. 17, 2007. http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2007/01/17/3394584-sun.html
- Gerrard, Neil. "Social networking: Face on or face off?" Contract Journal. Sept. 12, 2007. http://www.contractjournal.com/Articles/2007/09/12/56228/social-networking-face-on-or-face-off.html
- King, Stuart. "Is Facebook a danger to your business data?" ComputerWeekly.com. Sept. 13, 2007. http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2007/09/13/226740/is-facebook-a-danger-to-your-business-data.htm
- Weiner, Eric. "Use time wisely -- by slacking off." Los Angeles Times. Sept. 11, 2007. http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-weiner11sep11,0,1343248.story?coll=la-news-comment