Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Why banning Facebook could be bad for business

Many organisations still insist on banning access to Facebook at the office.   Here's why that makes no sense:

  • The reason companies give is usually that Facbook is a potential timewaster.   However, banning Facbook won't stop bored employees from wasting time.   I've worked in an organisation that banned Facebook even as its staff read "Hello" magazine at their desks.   The onlyway to stop saff wasting time is to give them interesting work that keeps them engaged and motivated.   The fact is, it's easier to ban Facebook than it is to stop staff reading "Hello" magazine or to give them interesting work that keeps them engaged and motivated.   So companies ban Facebook in order to be seen to be taking taking decisive action against grafters.   But no-one will be impressed.
  • If staff can't access Facebook on their computers, they'll simply do it on their cell phones.   And that's bound to be slower and so take more time.
  • Sooner or later (if not already) the best and brightest staff will start to avoid the sorts of companies that implement such antiquated, restrictive and futile policies.   Graham Jones writes that social networking is increasingly a part of how people think about the world - soon, they'll expect to find access to it in place in the same that way we now exect the telephone and e-mail to be in place (and to allow a certain, albeit limited, personal use).  Companies that ban Facebook will be seen as punishing the creative and innovative,whilst failing to address the underlying problems of the unengaged and underperforming.   So you'll get fewer stars, and more staff reading "Hello" magazine at their desks.   (You may think this is not an issue in the current economic environment, but people won't just forget when the economy turns, and companies won't learn fast enough.)   
  • And don't be fooled into thinking that Facebook is just about teenagers, Facebook is growing fastest in the core employment ages.
So, instead of banning Facebook, you could use and channel it within your business:
  • Encourage your staff to build networks and reslationships with suppliers, customers and competitors.   And find ways to leverage those relationships.
  • Your staff could be your best advocates, and achieve more than your conventional marketing initiatives.
  • Your staff can use those networks to stay up to date with what is happening in your industry.  It'll be cheaper and more effective than conventional training.
  • Your staff can get closer to your customers - learning what they think about your products and services and how they us them, and collaborating with them on ways to improve them.
  • And finally, if all of the above is not enough, according to the University of Melbourne, employees who use Facebook and watch YouTube are more productive than those that don't.
If a company has problems, banning Facebook will not solve them.   Your staff can either use Facebook to evangelise your company / product during office hours, or criticise it from the privacy of their own homes.   Either way, they will speak and be heard by their peers.   You can influence which it will be.
Of course, I've used Facebook purely as one popular example of social media.   The same logic could be applied to Twitter, Digg, SocialMedian, and a host of other services.   If you're not up to date on what these are and how they are or could be being used within your company, its time to catch up.