Add this to the mountain of evidence that contradicts the conventional wisdom that employees’ use of social media is a drain on productivity: Among hourly workers, those that use five or more social networks are more productive and better at handling customer transactions.
These results come from a study from Evolv, which “harnesses the power of big data predictive analytics and machine learning to uncover the inefficiencies that undermine the performance of global workforces.”
According to the report, employees that are engaged in five or more social networks have a 1.57% higher sales conversion than their peers, and handle customer transactions in 2.76% less time.
“The fact that they’re better at handling customer interactions may stem from the fact that they’re inherently more social people,” the report says.
The study also suggests that hourly workers using social networks will stay longer with the company — 92 days compared to 83 for those who don’t use social networks at all. Interestingly, workers using between one and four social networks stay 94 days, two days longer than the five-or-more crowd.
I’d love to point you to a copy of the report, but it’s not on the Evolv website. I first read it in an April 2 Mashable piece by Chris Taylor. There was no link to the report, though, so I spent a fair amount of time on the Evolv website, where a number of studies and reports are available, but none containing this data. I got in touch with the company directly, and the second representative I corresponded with sent me a one-page PDF with the data.
Whatever. The data reinforces a multitude of studies that offer other reasons access to social media drives rather than dampens productivity, like this one from McKinsey & Co., which sees a 20-25% productivity boost when employees use social media, and the unlocking of $1.3 trillion in annual value.
Or this one from Deloitte that argues social media is better than any other means for workers to address “exceptions” in their work.
Taking a different approach is this one, from the University of Melbourne, which demonstrated results similar to studies conducted by MindLab and Singapore National University.
And these are just a few of the studies not funded by companies that sell services to block or monitor employees that show the value of employees engaging in social media.
Palo Alto Networks is out with its annual numbers on employee work time spent on social networks. The company’s conclusions are based on analyzing raw data from 1,600-plus companies for a seven-month period last year. Their press release on the study confirms something we already suspected: “explosive growth in global social networking and browser-based file sharing on corporate networks, with a 300 percent increase in active social networking. (e.g., posting, applications) compared with activity during the same period in the latter half of 2010.”
The press release quotes the company’s CMO, René Bonvanie, saying “Whether or not employees are using social networks or sharing files at work is no longer a question; this data clearly demonstrates that users are embracing and actively using such applications.”
But, since network security is Palo Alto Networks’ business, the conclusion Bonvanie reaches is that you’d better watch out because productivity and network security are at risk. So the reporting of the study will serve mostly to encourage the lockdown of social channels at work. That conclusion, as far as I’m concerned, misses the point entirely.
In fact, a tripling of employee access to social networks is a cause for celebration, not panic.
For example, the numbers point to widespread adoption of Twitter at work. Nobody’s playing Farmville on Twitter, but we know from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) study, “The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks,” that professional peer groups have moved from proprietary networks to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s likely that a lot of the tweeting going on from work is work-related.
In 2010, the bandwidth consumed by employees for Faceboook apps, social plugins and posting was 5 percent. In the new study it has risen to 25 percent. isn’t it interesting, though, that Palo Alto Networks includes “posting” as one of the activities driving the increase.
The numbers also point to file sharing sites as the source of a lot of bandwidth consumption. Of course, posting to and visiting Slideshare and Scribd, for instance, are good things, not something to worry about. These are places where knowledge is transferred.
The reason workers are using social networks is, in large part, that these channels are increasingly becoming a routine part of how work gets done. Yes, I understand that some people abuse their access and that companies need to address concerns over the introduction of viruses and other infections, but these issues need to be addressed without hamstringing the bulk of the population that uses social networking to improve their productivity and the company’s performance.
Social channels is exactly where employees need to be, given the results of Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer, which was released today. According to the Executive Summary…
(As trust in CEOs dropped, trust in) “a person like me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, with the biggest increase in credibility since 2004, and now trails only academics and technical experts. Regular employees jumped from least credible spokesperson to tied for fourth on the list, with a 16-point record rise. Social-networking, microblogging, and conte-thsaring sites witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information about a company, rising by 88, 86, and 75 percent, respectively.These results alone should make it clear that a tripling of employee engagement in these channels bodes very, very well for companies.
If you need more evidence that this is just the way people communicate, there’s another report from ReadWrite Enterprise that wonders whether dumping email as a channel for employee-to-employee communication might just make sense. One of the reasons online veteran David Strom cites is that, “as social media becomes more prevalent, it becomes easier to have conversations in the public eye, or at least on the corporate Intranet.” He lists activities like posting questions and replies in these channels.
There are other shifts leading to email’s demise –- the shift to mobile, and that IM, group chats and other technologies work better. Of course, email between the company and anyone outside the organization would remain a regular communication tool.
But Strom’s post reinforces the point that we’re using social nertworks at work as an important part of getting the job done because it’s just more efficient. That’s what technology is supposed to do. Of course, there are organizations that get this. CNN Money profiled nine companies from the list of the best companies to work for that have added social networks to the workplace. For example, Intuit’s @TeamTurboTax draws upon product managers and engineers to tackle customers’ problems. Intuit says that when the tax season comes around, employees throughout the pipeline volunteer to contribute to the effort to respond to customersk. So, would all those posts be counted in the Palo Alto Networks’ “posting” data? And if so, that kind of traffic needs to be viewed as a company advantage,something to be nurtured, not a cause for locking down the organization.
I posted an item to my blog last week praising Zappos for its handling of the server security breach. One of Zappos’ actions was to send an email to customers. A few of the few commentsto my post came from people who hadn’t gotten that email. It didn’t take long before someone from Zappos left a comment that apologized, explained that the emails are going to tens of million of customers in batches and that took a while. He then let everyone know what to do without waiting for the email. He signed his comment, “Jonathan, random Zappos employee.” Again, these are legitimate work-related purposes to which these channels are being used. I’d start training employees to do more of this, not make it harder.
But Palo Alto Networks has an incentive to put its view out there as a press release that’ll find its way into the inbox of a lot of executives, and that’s why you’ll continue to see companies blocking employee access, like the more than half of companies in Ireland do.
Finally, remember the Altimeter Group’s social media preparedness study, which points out that companies that train their employees on policies and practices experience a far lower risk of problems arising from social media than those that bolt the doors.
If your employees aren’t among those whose use of social media at work has tripled, you have a reason to be concerned. Your competitors that understand that shift in work processes are primed to kick your ass.
I initially reported on this story on today’s episode of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report.” It is cross-posted from my primary blog at holtz.com.
I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual on Facebook lately. Two recently formed groups are the culprits. Both are work-related. The first is the home to a largely intellectual discussion of how Wikipedia can work more closely with official representatives of organizations to ensure their companies’ entries are accurate and up-to-date. Wikipedia’s founder and Wikia owner Jimmy Wales has joined the closed group and the discussions with him have been mostly respectful, with information and ideas moving in both directions. Edelman Digital Senior Vice President Phil Gomes started the group after posting an open letter to Wales about the situation on his blog.
The second group, also a closed group, is one I started along with Joe Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis Group, as a place for the 80-plus participants of an eight-week IABC training program in social media to gather.
I was chagrined when one of the participants in the IABC program expressed her dismay that Facebook would be the home for our discussions. Her company, she said, blocks Facebook. Her participation in the class that she’s taking for work purposes, and for which her company is paying, will have to wait until she gets home.
She’s certainly not alone. Countless Facebook pages and groups are business-focused; employees spending time with these resources aren’t draining productivity. They’re working.
I also wondered how many smart people with ideas and insights to share are not participating in the Wikipedia discussion because their companies, too, prohibit employee access to Facebook.
Early in 2011, Robert Half Technology released an updated study revealing that 31% of companies block all social media access. While that’s a welcome declinie from the 54% reported in its first study two years earlier, it still demonstrates a surprising lack of forsight. Consumed buy easily addressed worries of productivity losses and network infections, these organizations deny themselves a host of benefits attainable by virtue of the fact that employees bring their social graphs to work with them every day.
Over the last few years, I have developed a list of ways employee access to social media can serve as a business advantage and competitive edge. It includes…
Idea testing and decision support
Brand and product/service evangelism
Reinforcing organizational culture and values
Access to subject matter experts
Employees using Facebook can help the organization realize several of these benefits. In the cases of the two groups noted above where I’m spending more Facebook time than usual, training, idea testing/decision support and access to subject matter experts are all possible outcomes.
I’m inclined to add a new category based on the Wikipedia-focused group: having a voice in processes that could affect the employee’s industry. In this case, corporate listings in Wikipedia often contain inaccuracies and mininformation that go uncorrected because editors reject any input from company representatives. The informed debate taking place in the group — which includes high-level representation from PRSA and IABC — could lead to better understanding and even substantive change. Companies that block access to Facebook prevent their own communicators from participating in the discussion and influencing its outcome.
Yes, of course, communicators interested in engaging in the Wikipedia discussion and people enrolled in the IABC training can wait until they get home and still participate. But these are clearly work activities. Telling employees they only way they can access these resources is after-hours is no way to build employee engagement.
It’s one more reason for companies to develop the processes necessary to unblock their employees from tapping into their social networks.
There are great companies, and there are all the rest.
The great companies are places where people want to work, and hence make the list of the top 100 companies to work for. Great companies also tend to be forward-looking. At the Altimeter Group — the analyst firm founded by Groundswell co-author Charlene Li — “Advanced” companies are at far end of the spectrum of efforts to weave social media into their business structures and processes.
Of 144 businesses surveyed for Altimeter’s latest report — Social Business Readiness — only 18 qualified as “Advanced.” The criteria for these organizations include governance models for policies to ensure responsible engagement in social channels, enterprise-wide response processes to ensure timely interactions with customers and other stakeholders, ongoing education and best-practice sharing, and the adoption of a central hub as a part of the organizational structure, often called a “Center of Excellence.”
It’s also worth noting that, like the best companies to work for, companies Altimeter deems “Advanced” don’t block employee access to social media. Or, as the report puts it, “Of the 144 companies we surveyed, all 18 Advanced companies allow rank-and-file employees to use social media professionally.”
This openness isn’t undertaken lightly, though. These organizations also educate and provide guardrails so employees understand how to participate safely and consistently. Detailed results include the following:
All 18 Advanced companies have social media policies in place and encourage employees to participate in social media as brand representatives. Among the 18, five require formal approval, seven have pre-defined guidelines and six actively encourage participation among all staff. None discourage staff social media use.
Thirteen of the 18 Advanced companies have introduced baseline processes to reinforce and update the policy and to train newly hired staff. Among all companies, only 26% have such processes.
72% of Advanced companies organize ongoing education opportunities for those employees engaged on behalf of the company in social channels. These include brown bag lunches, speaker series and internal conferences. Across the less (or non) Advanced companies, only 34% maintain ongoing education.
72% of Advanced companies have processes that allow employees to share best practices, compared to 35% of all organizations.
One key result of these preparations is a dramatically reduced likelihood of getting caught up in a social media crisis (or limited impact if a crisis does occur). That’s ironic, since one reason the less advanced companies block employee access is fear that employees online will instigate crises.
Will the less advanced companies get the message and take the steps required to weave social media into their business processes? Some will — eventually — and others never will, but there are underlying reasons why they aren’t the best places to work or the most advanced organizations. With their competitors getting on board, you have to wonder how long the least advanced companies with the least desirable work environments will last long.
In response to the last post, challenging Barclay Communications’ rationale for blocking employee access to social media, a blogger named Jeremy Probert, on the wordmonger’s blog (lower case is his, not mine), declared social media to be “stupid and vainglorious.” He wrote:
It’s been a long time, gentle readers, since I came across something that deserves an award for its icky, sticky, company hippy nature, its inherent stupidity and intellectual laziness and its truly horrible smug and self-satisfied tone. But today is the day – it chills my very soul to introduce this, the Stop Blocking website and it disheartens me even further to link to this, a piece entitled ‘Demolishing Barclays Communications’ Blocking Argument Point-by-Point’.
At first, I dismissed this as just another business pundit whose worldview hasn’t shifted since “The Organization Man.” But Jeremy does make points that are worth addressing debunking.
Most of Jeremy’s challenges are based on the fact that he read just this post, and didn’t bother with the rest of this blog where his arguments have been addressed repeatedly. Still, there’s nothing wrong with reiterating and reinforcing these points (which Jeremy generously calls “idiocies”):
Apparently, all workers, regardless of status or paygrade, put in extra hours and therefore compensate for any time that they may waste using social networks. Of course they do. In the same way that they all love the company that they work for, its senior management and its brands
We’re mostly talking about information and knowledge workers. And no, not every one of them put in extra hours. However, there is clear evidence from substantial, empirical, comprhensive research that Millennials do. As for those who don’t (and this point will re-emerge repeatedly), clearly communicated and enforced policies will deal with abuse.
Monitoring and addressing productivity is a supervisor’s job, not a IT’s. The consequences of blocking everybody as a means of addressing problem workers is a great way to kill engagement and drop employee trust to zero. As American Express’s vice president of communications James Lynch said yesterday at the Ragan Social Media Summit here at SWIFT headquarters in Belgium, blocking access is not a smart risk-mitigation strategy.
By the way, I’m a believer in public execution. Reward and recognition are the only way to drive culture and behavior change in organization. Announcing to the entire organization that an employee was terminated for violating the company’s policy can do more to keep employees on the straight and narrow than blocking policies that employees can override as easily as pulling out their smart phones.
Productivity suffers if employees can’t connect to social networks at work (thanks, University of Melbourne!). Apparently use of social media ‘resets an employee’s concentration’. How DID we manage to concentrate before?
First, the University of Melbourne didn’t produce the only study to reach this conclusion. Independently, for example, MindLab International conducted research that arrived at the same results. Jeremy can sniff at these results all he likes, but until he can produce research results to the contrary, I’ll continue to point to these studies.
As for how we managed to concentrate before — we didn’t. A colleague of mine — who manages a team at a global consulting firm that produces technology solutions — told me he and his team are under intense pressure to produce a high number of billable hours. Yet after five or six hours of continuous work, concentration slides so badly that work produced after that needs to be redone, so the pressure to put in the hours becomes counterproductive. And he lauds his team as the cream of the coding crop. It’s just, he says, that at a certain point without breaks, concentration declines.
If anyone believes that the workers sitting in rows of desks begins supervised by stern overseers to make sure they didn’t waste time were more productive than today’s workers who do take breaks and visit their online communities is simply deluded.
Because the US Department of Defense has opened its networks to social media, does not mean that LargeCorp Industries LLC (in the business of profit, not homeland security) should – it’s not a question of risk from cyber-attack, it’s a question of perceived need and value. (In any case, I would ask whether the ‘private in the field in Afghanistan’ is free to change his status willy-nilly (‘Safe behind a wall’ to ‘In a ditch with blast concussion’) or to share any sort of geographic or temporal information)
Jeremy, I have to ask if you read Barclay Communications’ argument at all. The very point they made is that opening networks to social media puts networks at risk to cyber-attack. That was their entire point. That’s what I was responding to.
And no, Jeremy, of course not: The Department of Defense, once it decided that social media was a “field of maneuver” rather than a “fortress to be defended” implemented training to ensure soldiers kept both themselves and the unit safe. As DoD senior strategist Jack Holt put it, the military teaches soldiers to be safe in the desert, on the seas, in the skies; they can train them to be safe online. Should you be interested, Jeremy, you can listen to my interview with Jack here or his interview with Eric Schartzman here.
Clearly, I never suggested that companies should simply open their networks. They need to implement policies and guardrails so employees can protect both themselves and the company, and the organization can ensure that they reap the benefits of employees’ online activities while mitigating the risks.
(Doesn’t all of this just sound like common sense? Somehow this escaped Jeremy. Sadly, he’s not alone.)
Company ‘confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator’. True – but your average elevator holds 12 people and Facebook holds a potentially eavesdropping audience of 450 million. Go figure
I’m not aware of any Facebook account with 450 million friends. Are you? And a privacy violation is a privacy violation. The HIPAA fine won’t be any larger for violation on Facebook than it would be for a violation in an elevator.
The point is that closing off access to Facebook doesn’t solve the problem; educating staff about privacy does.
Of course, Jeremy ignores the rest of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO’s larger point: blocking Facebook shuts down the ability for employees to build community, and it closes off the communication channel of preference among younger employees. Paul notes that he often gets useful suggestions and ideas from employees who don’t use email. (If you have children who are teens or in their twenties, you know this.)
‘Many employees carry smartphones – or they can (access social media) from home after work’ – again, true. But what they do on their own time is their own business – unless it contravenes company policy on how they may represent themselves as employees, or the laws of the land – in which case they get fired. In the workplace – well, the clue is in the name – ‘work’place. Not ‘fun’place or ‘do-your-own-thing’place
I am frequently accused (as Jeremy does) of being some kind of employee rights advocate. I’m not. I’m a business advocate. Understanding that Millenials (and, to a great degree, GenX) operate in what they call the “weisure” world — the cross-over of work and leisure — is vital. Work happens where it makes sense, whether it’s in an office or at the beach. Why? Because they have grown up as hyperconnected individuals where proximity is not required for work to be done. The idea that proximity is a requirement for knowledge/information workers is a relic of the era from which Jeremy has failed to move.
A study noted by American Express’s Lynch noted than39% of Millennial employees won’t work at companies that block Facebook — or will leave if a new block is implemented. That’s not because they want to have fun, but because Facebook is how they communicate and collaborate. Consider, for example, the results of the study, “The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks,” conducted by SAP in conjunction with the Society for New Communciation Research (SNCR). The study found that organizational decision-makers who have access to their social media peer groups make better and faster decisions. Where, primarily, do those professional peers reside, according to the study? Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Seventy-six percent of those professionals visit these networks once or more per day, where they…
Access thought leadership and information unavailable inside the walls of the company
Showcase the company (building brand recognition and supporting organizational goals from recruiting to sales)
Increase the speed of collaboration
Research business decisions
Another study showed that 40% of IT professionals use social networks to seek advice from peers on technology purchases. Clearly a stupid and vainglorious activity.
As for the whole “fun” thing, no, the workplace doesn’t need to be fun. But employees do need to be engaged (which means they make discretionary effort on the company’s behalf). Companies with large populations of highly engaged employees produce greater growth by far than others. It’s hard to imagine engaged employees in organizations where the first message they hear is, “We don’t trust any of you as far as we can throw you.” It’s also hard to imagine companies blocking access showing high levels of job satisfaction.
As for “do your own thing,” perhaps you’ve heard of a concept called “innovation.” Google practices it, with employees required to spend a certain amount of time innovating based on their own ideas. Have you checked Google’s valuation lately? I’d also point you to the book “Empowered,” by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, which promotes the idea that employees “own thing” ideas of how to use social media to better serve customers can produce a significant marketplace differentiation.
‘If normal use of bandwidth (this refers to employee use of social media) is slowing (your) network to a crawl, get more bandwidth.’ Just go to your finance guys and ask them to approve an increase in your budget, to purchase bandwidth to allow your employees to update their Facebook statii. That’s bound to work. Job done
Jeremy, please allow me to introduce you to the notion of “making a business case.” This concept involves demonstrating that the investment will produce results that exceed the cost.
All of this is hopelessly Utopian – the ideals of an imaginary world where everyone is nice, contented, loyal and trustworthy. Well, here’s the wake-up call. They’re not, and you need to bear that in mind when thinking about social media use in the workplace.
If your hiring practices result in bringing in employees who don’t embrace the preferred culture of the organization, that’s your fault. You can dismiss all this as “utopian” all you like, but companies like Cisco Systems and zappos.com seek culture fits above all else in their recruiting, and they reap the benefits. Hiring people you don’t trust is an archaic practice. If you engage in it, you have nobody but yourself to blame. To suggest that it’s simply not possible is nothing more than lazy.
Social media is wasteful and vainglorious.
First, this seems odd coming from somebody writing on his blog. But still…
This is the lynchpin statement that showcases the author’s stupendous ignorance. I hear it repeatedly from people who have not made the slightest effort to explore the research that proves precisely the opposite. General Motors is selling cars by allowing employees to talk about their driving experiences on Facebook from work. Sprint is solving customer problems it identifies through employee volunteers on Twitter. Best Buy is driving customers to its stores via 2,500 employees who answer consumer product questions posed on Twitter — from the floor store. Home Depot’s staff can produce videos or test results to respond to home improvement questions posed through social media channels. Through the employees’ social networks, companies are improving recruiting, identifying competitive intelligence, sourcing subject matter expertise, obtaining training…the list goes on.
There are thousands upon thousands of case studies, and hundreds of research studies, that prove the stupidity of such throwaway statements as “social media is wasteful and vainglorious.” The simple fact is, supported by policies and processes, employee engagement in social media can drive growth and profitability.
What is stupid and vainglorious is leaders who dismiss social media despite the avalanche of quantifiable evidence to the contrary.
I’ve been intrigued, since launching this site, by the inordinate number of comments left by high school students. After all, the Stop Blocking initiative is aimed at business, not academia. But Voce Communications’ Doug Haslam pointed me to a notice that Newton North High School — close to Doug’s Boston home — is considering shutting down student access to Facebook.
This is being debated at SFA (Student Faculty Administration). Your input will help SFA decide. The next meeting is April 13th @ 7:00am in the library. It is open for all students and staff to attend. (Note: Facebook is currently blocked at all Newton Public Schools.)
A poll included with the item currently stands at 370 votes against blocking and 87 in favor. The cynic in me suspects it was mostly students casting the opposing votes and parents voting yes.
The comments left to the item on the Wicked Local blog that directed me to the Learning Commons site, however, got me thinking more about the issue. The impetus behind the ban is at least partly based on the worry that kids use Facebook to bully others. One comment, for example, reads…
I am a private tutor in Newton. Just this year, I have had 3 Newton students (2 from North, 1 from South) who have been involved with the Newton police due to cyberbullying via Facebook. I am not sure what the outcome was, but I know for a fact that there were threats and there was police involvement.
Bullying is a problem, to be sure. It was a problem when I was in school, and when my parents were in school. The recent case in South Hadley, Massachusetts — in which nine teens were indicted for their roles in relentlessly bullying a 15-year-old girl who was driven to kill herself — is another tragedy that points to a serious need for action.
But blaming the Internet or Facebook is a mistake. In fact, I don’t care for the term “cyberbullying.” Is bullying that takes place over the phone called “phonebullying?” The venue is irrelevant. The channel isn’t the problem. The problem is the attitude that some kids have that bullying is okay wherever they can engage in it.
The situation reminds me of hospital CEO Paul Levy’s reaction when he learned that another hospital in the area was blocking Facebook because some staff members had violated HIPAA — the regulation that protects patient privacy — on Facebook. Levy, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (also in Boston), wrote on his “Running a Hospital” blog:
Any form of communication (even conversations in the elevator!) can violate important privacy rules, but limiting people’s access to social media in the workplace will mainly inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing. It also creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email. Finally, consider the cost of building and using tools that attempt to “track utilization and monitor content.” Not worth the effort, I say.
Interestingly, the use of Facebook under consideration at Newton North involves a portal for parents, where they could view information relevant to their childrens’ education, including homework and projects.
I see multiple problems, though, with blocking kids’ access. First, many of them — like their counterparts in the business world — don’t need the school’s computers to access Facebook; they can do that just fine on their mobile phones. Lack of access from school won’t stop cyberbullying, either; they’ll just do it when they get home to their own computers.
But what’s really at issue is starting to teach using the channels that kids are already using in a manner that reflects the way peopale will be working and learning with increasing frequency. Collaborating on team projects makes more sense on Facebook than a proprietary school system because Facebook is (for now) the network they’ll continue to use in college and then in the work world. (A recent study (PDF file) from the Society for New Communication Research (SNCR) determined that decision-makers in the business world are making faster and better decisions by tapping their Social Media Peer Groups (SMPGs) via Facebook and LinkedIn. Failing to guide students in the use of the resources they’ll be required to use just to get their jobs done by the time they graduate is a failure of the education system.
I’m not talking about unrestricted Facebook use while students should be focused on schoolwork. But teachers need to begin figuring out how to incorporate social networking into their teaching plans in order for the coursework to be truly relevant. The idea that people work in isolation is fast becoming outdated, as the SNCR study reveals; teaching kids to do schoolwork in a vacuum is not preparing them for the processes they’ll need to understand when they go to college (where online collaboration is just the extension of the age-old study group) and then when they enter the world of work.
That is, teachers should be teaching the ways social neteworks can benefit their learning while actively discouraging bullying of any kind. The issues are, in fact, mutually exclusive.
Doug Haslam himself gets the final word, from a comment he left to the Wicked Local blog:
The thing is, people will form their own groups where they want regardless of what is “blocked.” It makes sense for schools to have some presence on Facebook — not to supervise or watch, but to participate as part of a community.
A proprietary network makes sense as far as assignments, but experimenting — as class groups, in the right circumstances — with Facebook and other social tools is a way to tap into how people are now working together in the real world.
That doesn’t mean students should be using Facebook during school hours to play Farmville, just as it shouldn’t in the workplace (where, for the most part, Facebook should not be blocked either. But, there are some applications. As someone astutely said (in an earlier comment), high school kids are on Facebook anyway. Maybe we should teach them how to use it to be better community citizens (online and off) rather than ignore it at our peril.
Reports of the degree to which organizations are blocking employee access to social sites continues to be discouraging, particularly given the reasons for these policies are based on misinformation and a fundamental failure to recognize the value that would accrue to organizations that developed smart policies to foster smart engagement between employees and the public.
This time around, the bad news comes out of the UK, where 90% of councils restrict access to social media. The results come from a study conducted by SOCITM, the professional association for public sector ICT management. Ironically, this group had earlier encouraged organizations to lift such restrictions, recognizing that “social media is…an economical way for public sector organisations to deliver services, communicate with staff and engage with the community.”
According to the study, 67% of councils have implemented scorched-earth policies, blocking all use of social media. Among the remaining 33%, some confine use to lunchtime and before and after work. The SOCITM report interprets these finds as proof that councils don’t see any business value to employee participation in social media.
There’s an almost equal split between councils that view security as the main reason for limiting or blocking access and those who see productivity as the problem. Still, SOCITM believes that stopping employees from tapping into these sites is impossible, given the fact that most workers have their own devices — like smartphones — that give them access to services like Facebook and Twitter. But the fact that employee access increases engagement with the communities the councils serve is the dimension of the report that jumped out at me. According to Christopher Head, who co-authored the report:
CIOs and heads of ICT need to take the lead and educate colleagues on the organisation’s management team about the benefits of social media, as well as finding ways to accommodate them appropriately and safely through the corporate infrastructure.
This advice is coming from more and more quarters, including reserach firm Gartner, which has urged businesses to take advantage of employees’ connection to sites like Facebook to facilitate their business-to-consumer strategies.
It just seems managers would rather succumb to baseless fears and take the easy way out than listen to the advice of experts who know what they’re talking about.
For the first few years of my first job in the business world, my department manager would make monthly circuits of the office carrying pages and pages of telephone records. He would stop at each of his employees’ offices and cubes and review the calls made from their phones. Personal calls earned a rebuke.
Eventually, he gave up on this routine as the company grew to accept calls non-work-related numbers as an integral part of employees’ lives. Making doctors’ appointments, talking to kids’ teachers, checking in at home — these all eventually became non-issues at most organizations.
For the networked generation, checking in on Facebook is no different, according to a Deloitte study that assessed teen attitudes about ethics. Teens “are as likely to post something on a social networking site as they are to pick up a phone,” according to Maureen Mohlenkamp, Deloitte’s deputy ethics officer. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting on the study, “Social networking has become so critical to the younger generation of workers, Ms. Mohlenkamp believes that having access to the sites might someday be viewed as an employee perk, along the lines of health benefits or a company cell phone.”
The key takeaway from the study, according to Mohlenkamp: “For companies to be viewed as an employer of choice, they will need to provide access to these sites. Then, it will be important for them to provide the appropriate training and education for new hires to prevent risks to the employee and the organization.”
The training and education will be necessary because 40 percent of teens — along with a third of adults (based on another Deloitte study) — fail to consider that bosses, recruiters, parents and college admission staff could look at, and be influenced by, what they post to their pages.
Opinion Research Corp. conducted the study the week of September 21 among 1,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17.
Abuse of an established company policy is a management issue. Even when it involves company systems, it is not an IT issue. The abdication of management responsibilities to IT may briefly create the perception that the problem has been solved. In fact, a larger problem has been created.
Consider the case of a Boston-area hospital which has blocked access for all of its employees to social networking sites. According to a memo issued to employees,
The decision is based on recent evidence that some employees have been using these sites to comment on Hospital business, which is a violation of the Hospital’s Electronic Communications policy and a potential HIPAA violation.
In other words, the actions of a few employees have led the hospital’s management to ban access to these resources for all employees, including those who have abided by the hospital’s Electronic Communications policy. The message this sends to the majority of employees who play by the rules:
Your good behavior is irrelevant. We have opted to trust none of you.
This message can only result in deterioration of employee commitment and engagement. It would have taken more effort for the hospital to identify those who absued the privilege and discipline them according to the established policy. It would also have required some effort to communicate to the rest of the workforce that the hospital regretfully had to enforce the policy, and will continue to enforce it.
But employee behaviors are managed through reward and recognition. Recognizing that consequences will befall employees who violate policies is a sure way to obtain compliance. Sadly, it is far easier to simply block everybody than to take the correct steps.
But this hospital goes one jaw-dropping step further, noting in the memo that…
The Executive Team will be working in the coming months to ensure that we have written policies in place that articulate the appropriate use of social networking sites while on duty at the Hospital. Once these written policies are in place, we have educated all employees about expectations and disciplinary action associated with violating the policies, and we have the appropriate IS tools in place to track utilization and monitor content, we will consider once again providing access to these sites. We expect this will take a period of about 6 months.
Several hospital social media policies are in place and available online, including those of The Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Henry Ford Health, and The Cleveland Clinic. Why should even the most tangled of bureaucracies require six months to review the best practices and put a policy in place?
Finally, as I have noted before, most employees have cell phones and will be able to post exactly the same HIPAA violations to the same networks using their personal Internet-connected devices. Blocking access on hospital computers will prevent exactly nothing.
This is precisely the kind of brain-dead, mindless, knee-jerk reaction that is crippling organizations as they move ienvitably into a networked ecosystem. I learned about the situation on “Running a Hospital,” the blog by Paul Levy, CEO of another Boston-area hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess. Paul published the hospital memo in its entirety, but introduced it, in part, with these words:
you can guess my view of this: Any form of communication (even conversations in the elevator!) can violate important privacy rules, but limiting people’s access to social media in the workplace will mainly inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing. It also creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email. Finally, consider the cost of building and using tools that attempt to “track utilization and monitor content.” Not worth the effort, I say.
There are voices of reason with an eye on the long-term view in the world of business. We need to spread those voices and offer the alternatives to mindless blocking of all content from all employees.
In this case, a clearly-communicated and enforced policy would have done the trick. Instead, this unnamed Boston-area hospital has taken proactive steps to disenfranchising its workforce while inhibiting the sharing of information and keeping virtually no employees from using these social sites.
Companies everywhere are blocking employee access to the Net, fueled by questionable research and irresponsible pronouncements of self-serving individuals and organizations. This site is designed to serve as a hub information resource for those who believe the benefits of providing access far outweigh the risks.