Have you been banned from using Facebook at work? How unfair is that? More and more big companies are imposing a ban on sites such as Facebook and MySpace. The latest in the UK include Tesco and LloydsTSB. But some publishing and media companies are also pulling the plug on employee social networking – which, to me, makes even less sense.
In the UK, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), has spoken out on the issue. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, quoted in today’s Times, said: “Simply cracking down on the use of new web tools like Facebook is not a sensible solution to a problem that is only going to get bigger. It’s unreasonable for employers to try to stop their staff from having a life outside work, just because they can’t get their heads around the technology.”
The TUC advocates guidelines, but argues that employees should be trusted to use the Internet responsibly. No one would dream of a blanket ban on the use of websites: who today could do their job without Internet research and services such as booking hotels or looking up train times? But many of us also make personal use of websites in lunch breaks, and can even do personal chores such as shopping from our offices, without schlepping into town – arguably increasing productivity.
But there is a much stronger argument for allowing Facebooking at work. Peter Mooney, of Employment Law Advisory Services, has been widely quoted today, including on the BBC and Channel 4 News, declaring that Facebook is “a social networking tool, not a business tool.”
It depends on your business, I guess: even he admitted that the situation is different for journalists and media folk, compared with, say, a bank. Actually, social networking can make sense for a whole range of businesses. But to ban it in publishing companies seems shortsighted, and based on a misunderstanding of the medium.
I have argued the business case for social networking elsewhere in this blog. For publishers, the benefits seem clear: books are a significant interest around which people cluster on social networks; and for textbook publishers – well, if a student doesn’t have a Facebook profile, he or she simply doesn’t exist. Publishers can reach these powerful viral networks. The thing is: to use these networks, you have to be an individual, you have to be established, and you have to be authentic.
So, how do you go about it? Well, NOT by setting up a profile or a group for Your Publishing Company – that just doesn’t work. No one cares who the publisher is. Trust is in people rather than corporations now. People have profiles. Books, topics or subjects may have groups. Encourage your authors to have profiles. But also allow your employees to have them. Even encourage them by setting up a company Facebook Network. If they’re already on Facebook, their opinions and recommendations are trusted. That may include promoting a book they’ve just published using one of the many book recommendation applications. It may be posting a link to an author blog in a relevant interest group. Their ‘friend list’ may include work contacts and influencers as well as old school chums. They may be building a network of bloggers who are in a position to recommend books.
None of this is cynical. It’s an authentic use of the medium. Amid the chatter, people talk about work, what they’re doing, and what they’re passionate about. If your employees are enthused about a recent book, or think a link to a particular resource will be of genuine interest to their network or one of their groups, why wouldn’t they post it? It’s a powerful – and cheap – way of getting the word out. And who knows where these new conversations and networks will lead? Maybe a new market, a new idea, a new author? And that’s all additional to the internal benefits of employee engagement and communication, particularly in a large organization.
And why shouldn’t you do that in work time – let alone in your lunch hour?
Do you use Facebook, MySpace or other social networking sites for business? If so, how? Should their use be restricted at work? Let us know what you think – either by commenting here, or by using the forums on our very own Facebook Group. If your employer will let you, that is…