Thursday, September 13, 2007

Social networking is wasting whose time exactly?

The BBC reports that 'Facebook costs businesses dear'

According to some number crunchers somewhere (see the Beeb article for the full credits) 233 million hours are lost each month to employees 'wasting time' on social networking. £130m a day, apparently.

And you'll recall the cases of companies who even go so far as banning google (Bosses Who Ban: Out of Touch and now Out of Control).

Some argue that facebook will stop being regarded as a waste of time when the business applications get developed for it. JP Rangaswami on Confused of Calcutta has some wise words on the issue.

I'd argue anything that facilitates self-forming communities of interest (and facebook is surely one) can be conceived of a business app itself. Sure, if all you do is gabble and play solo games, it's a waste of time. But if you are connecting with a purpose...

So where is the story about how much value is created by people being part of social networks during their working day? Which set of number crunchers have added up those figures?

All depends on your terms of reference of course. Relationships made via social networking may have a business benefit to the company. That relationship will continue outside of working hours. The constantly connected communities of today continue those relationships on mobile, on their home pcs etc etc.

So where is the line between working time and personal time for these people? Are they putting in a bill to the company each week when they connect outside of the 9-5, when they even think about work outside of business hours?

My guess is that if they really go through the balance sheet with a fine-tooth comb they'll start demanding their employees do MORE on the network.

I'll give you one example. Through blogging, and connecting with other bloggers, I've become a facebook friend of Stowe Boyd. Stowe is based on San Francisco. Face-to-face meetings in Cambridgeshire UK are therefore pretty unlikely.

However I saw on a Stowe's facebook status update that he was in London. So we exchanged messages and ended up meeting for dinner.

This meeting was arranged and held in our own 'personal' time. It will result in a range of value - introductions to new people and new ideas, which I will find of huge value to new projects and who knows what else. Hope Stowe got something too.

The point is, if I regarded social networking as a waste of time, none of this value would be created. None of the introductions would be made, none of the new ideas would emerge.

I particularly like Stowe's notion that there's no such thing as your 'own' time any more. I think companies may have to reconsider what they consider 'their' time, too.

As referred to in previous posts and in my paper: Reed's Law and how multiple identities make the long tail just a little longer Stowe says: "Productivity is second to Connection: network productivity trumps personal productivity. I am made greater by the sum of my connections. So are my connections."

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?