Entries Tagged 'Facebook' ↓

Why block Facebook when it increasingly offers valuable work-related resources?

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…

  • Recruiting
  • Idea testing and decision support
  • Brand and product/service evangelism
  • Reinforcing organizational culture and values
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Content curation
  • Access to subject matter experts
  • Training

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.

Another study distorts the cost of employee social networking

Shame on CBS Radio News.

On its June 23 6 p.m. (EDT) top-of-the-hour newscast, CBS reported on the results of a study that indicate Facebook and other social networking sites are costing companies lost worker productivity.

I dashed home to find the source of the report. What I found was a month-old study that focused on all manner of workplace distractions. In fact, email processing and switching windows to complete tasks both ranked higher as sources of distraction (33%) than social media activities (20%).

Yet CBS didn’t bother to point this out, which undoubtedly led hundreds of business leaders to contact their IT departments to make sure employees didn’t have access to these sites.

CBS also didn’t explain why they were reporting now on a study USA Today reported back on May 18.

There are issues with the study as well, which reports that the hour spent each day on distractions accounts for “$10,375 of wasted productivity per person annually,” which translates to $10 million per year for a 1,000-employee company.

Which is hogwash.

After all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 1.8 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2011…The gain in productivity reflects increases of 3.2 percent in output and 1.4 percent in hours worked.

It’s a bit disingenuous to claim declining productivity in the face of evidence that American worker productivity continues to rise.

The study also doesn’t bother to acknowledge that most employees don’t put in a traditional eight-hour day. In the U.S., according to a UN study, 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. A 2006 study from Lexmark found that knowledge workers as a whole put in an average of five hours per week in excess of what the job requires, and well over half take work home with them. I’d bet real money that those numbers have increased in the intervening half-decade.

Simply put, you can’t claim lost productivity based on time spent on distractions without accounting for the total number of hours worked both at home and away. This study did nothing of the sort. Most don’t.

But the study goes even further when it claims that distractions by email, phone calls and chats with colleagues result in lost productivity. Really? Even if those calls and chats are work-related? Even if they result in accomplishment of tasks and achievement of business goals? The study made no effort to distinguish what percentage of those distractions were work-related.

Even worse, the top method companies have implemented to address these distractions is blocking of access to social networks (48%), even though social networking doesn’t come anywhere near email as the top source of distraction. Nowhere does the study try to determine if any of those online social activities bring any benefit to the employer (such as recruiting or brand ambassadorship).

It’s sad that the study presents so much distorted information, since some of the findings can be genuinely useful. For example, two-thirds of workers interrupt group meetings to communicate with someone else, mostly by email or answering a cell phone call (together these account for 83% of in-meeting interruptions). The study also attempts to quantify the impact of distractions, which include difficulty focusing on work, lack of time for deep or creative thinking and missed deadlines.

But as long as companies continue to use back-of-the-envelope calculations to heighten unreasonable fear of social networking, and media outlets like CBS Radio News continue to spotlight the sensational rather than the factual, companies will continue to dismiss the benefits of employee social networking and implement policies that can be worse than the problems they’re designed to fix.

Cross-posted to Holtz Communication + Technology

My Blogworld presentation: Why CEOs Should Love Open Employee Access to Social Media

Please keep in mind that this presentation was designed to serve as speaker support and was not intended to be a standalone presentation.

Is social media “stupid and vainglorious?”

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.

The illusion of security vs. building community

Pretty much everyone in the healthcare world is buzzing over a Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week that superficially made a strong case for blocking hospital employee access to Facebook.

The article, by Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, chronicled the case of 60-year-old William Wells, who died at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California, where he was brought after suffering severe knife wounds inflicted by a fellow resident of his nursing home.

Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, St. Mary nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: They snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.

The article chronciles a number of incidents at other hospitals involving staff violating patient privacy (and HIPAA) on Facebook, along with the fates of the nurses who posted the information (several were fired). The article has inspired conversation in the healthcare community about the need to block employee access to Facebook.

It’s a kneejerk reaction. After all, before social media, it was just as easy to share inappropriate, confidential information via email. (And, at one point in the early 1990s, organizations everywhere resisted the use of email for exactly that reason.)

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO Paul Levy has written perhaps the best analysis of the St. Mary case and the resulting flurry of blocking commentary. Levy’s excellent post concludes:

If you block Facebook on the hospital server, will it nonetheless be used in the wrong way by misguided people? Yes. They will use their iPhones or some other such handheld devices.

I know this sounds like the pro-gun argument, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” However you might feel about that issue, this one is different. By blocking this medium on your hospital server, you will remove a highly effective communications tool, all because you are fearful that a few misguided people will misuse it. You trade the illusion of security for a loss of community.

In an earlier post dating back to October 2009, Levy also noted that blocking Facebook 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.”

I’m currently reading a book, “The 2020 Workplace,” which delves deeply into the work habits and expectations of the Millennial Generation (born between 1977 and 1997); indeed, email is viewed (correctly) as an inefficient means of communication given more effective tools. As your Millennial kids how much they use email.

Blaming Facebook (or MySpace or Twitter or what-have-you) for human behavior that can be practiced with email, Usenet news groups, the telephone or in the elevator is not only misguided; it turns a blind eye to the more effective channels for communication that can actually improve communication in your institution. If you remember policies banning email in your organization in the early 90s, it’s easy to see today’s blocking policies as a failure to learn from mistakes made a mere 20 years ago.

The entire post is worth a careful reading, especially if your organization is on the brink of blocking staff access with the deluded expectation that it’ll solve a problem the roots of which have nothing at all to do with Facebook.

Recruiting scheme has employees add jobs widgets to Facebook profiles

Despite the fact that most companies still block access, and you still routinely read about business leaders who insist that lost productivity is the only conceivable result of employees spending work time on social activities, it is time to move beyond the arguments against blocking. There are eight distinct ways organizations can benefit from their employees’ social connections if only they will develop models and processes to support the extraction of that value.

Recruiting is one of those categories. According to a June 22 article appearing on recruiting site ere.net, several organizations are already figuring out that employees’ networks can prove far richer sources of referrals than traditional recruiting channels.

Article author Todd Raphael lists several companies that have turned to employees’ social networks to identify top-shelf candidates. While my thinking on recruiting has been focused on querying employees about whom they know based on their involvement in online peer groups, Raphael points to the development of widgets employees add to their Facebook pages. The widgets contain lists of open jobs. The vacant positions are seen by employees’ friends visiting their pages. In most cases, if an employees’ Facebook friend applies for and gets the job, the employee earns a referral fee.

The idea of paying an employee for a referral is hardly new, but the analog version of the concept required an employee to tell someone, one-on-one, about the job. That process mostly limited employees to sharing the information with people they knew well and with whom they interacted regularly. A widget on an employee’s Facebook pages exposes the job to those connections with whom employees don’t have strong relationships, expanding the reach of the information to those with whom the employee has weak ties.

Among the examples…

  • Staff at Virginia Mason Medical Center can add a widget to their pages that lists jobs like a director of nursing informatics and a range of IT jobs. Developed by recruiting firm Bernard Hodes, the widget has found its way onto a few employees’ pages. Once the Seattle-based organization formalizes a social media policy, it will roll the program out to all employees.
  • Some Enterprise Rent-A-Car employees have already received referral payments for jobs filled based on the widgets they added to their Facebook pages.
  • Employees from Hyatt will also have the opportunity to list open jobs on their Facebook pages and distribute the information to their friends.
  • Using a utility from a company called Referrio, Cisco Systems listed 11 jobs that would each pay $2,500 for the employee who referred a candidate sourced through his or her social networks.

Recruiting agencies — whose business models are threatened as employee networks become better sources of candidates — are shoring up their value by developing the products and services to support employee social network referrals. There’s Hodes, noted above. And a company called Select Minds is developing a service that will notify targeted employees by email of open jobs. For example, writes Raphael:

Let’s say hypothetically we’re talking about a software job at Nationwide, and that the job is in Dayton, Ohio. An automated email about the job opening might go out to 1) Nationwide employees in any region who are in IT jobs, and 2) all Nationwide employees in Dayton. The SelectMinds email allows employees to either email selected contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to tell them about the job, or update their LinkedIn and Facebook statuses (and soon Twitter, just not on the demo I saw) with info on the job. The chain of link-forwarding gets tracked as it moves around online, and the employee either gets the whole referral kitty, or can share part of it with a second person, depending on how the company sets it all up.

The employee who’s doing the referring can tell their company, via a short form, how well they know their friend, and what they think of them. The referring employee also gets emails notifying them if their contact has expressed interest in the job.

Meanwhile, recruiters view a dashboard listing how many times a job was referred, and how many applications came in for it. A recruiter can drill down and see who’s referring who.

Needless to say, the notion that companies will turn to their employees to help fill important jobs — but expect them to do it only from home — is absurd. In order for employees to help the company recruit needed talent, companies will increasingly turn to their employees’ social networks, which had better be wide open from work if companies are going to derive the greatest possible value from the effort.

Blocking isn’t the only way to maintain security

Cross-posted from my primary blog, a shel of my former self

In a comment left recently to a post I wrote for Stop Blocking back in October 2007 about malware on Facebook, David Jones with CommerceMicro wrote:

Stupid, out dated information.

We have users that repeatedly get infected with viruses and spyware no matter what level or type of antivirus and antispyware software we install. It’s rather odd that ONLY THOSE particular users get re-infected day after day and that they all have MySpace accounts, FaceBook accounts, or whatever. Their employers have to continually pay us to come and clean these infections.

My reply was a bit terse. I asked Jones if he believed all the companies that don’t block access were lying about not encountering the problems he cited. (And no, I wasn’t snarky enough to point out that “outdated” is one word.)

The security issue does, however, appear to be supplanting productivity concerns as the main reason companies block access to Facebook and other social media sites. Among the dominant social networks, Facebook presents the biggest risk to company security, according to 60% of the respondents to a survey of 500 companies conducted by Sophos, an IT security organization. No other network comes close. MySpace ranks second, with 18% of companies identifying it as a concern, followed by Twitter (17%) and LinkedIn (4%).

The concerns are not illegitimate. The incidents of reported malware and spam attacks through social networks has jumped 70% since April of last year. Social networks have become common launching pads fore a couple of particularly nasty worms. The risk of infection, though, is not the only security issue that keeps IT staff up at night. Employees’ individual behavior represents a risk, particularly as web-unsavvy employees fall prey to phishing and other devious ploys. And then there’s the fear that employees will share information they shouldn’t.

Sarah Perez goes into considerable detail on the Sophos report in her post on ReadWriteWeb. Perez also notes that even Sophos isn’t advocating an outright block, despite the study’s findings:

Unfortunately for those in charge of enforcing corporate security, simply blocking Facebook and other social networks via URL is not a realistic solution anymore. The networks are often a large part of a company’s marketing and sales strategies, notes Sophos, meaning they cannot be blocked outright. Instead, companies are encouraged to use a unified approach for mitigating threats that combines data monitoring, malware protection and granular access for their employees.

A Financial Times article (free registration required) has the same advice, noting that organizations have too much to gain from employee interactions on social networks. The article, penned by the head of an information risk management and e-discovery firm, rightly notes that leetting employees access social networks from work gives them “the ability to locate the right people, information and expertise quickly, but they also greatly aid external networking, sales and marketing activities.”

The article (which I discovered on the Idea Peepshow blog, notes thyat 89% of businesses in the UK have no policies governing employee use of social networks and calls for companies to establish and enforce such policies.

As I’ve noted before, protecting the company is a matter of ensuring the proper network safeguards are in place (such as anti-malware/spyware software and the latest virus definitions) and that employees understand their responsibilities.

It works in a lot of companies that don’t block access. It can work in yours.

Taxpayer group forces Portsmouth Council to block staff access

Most of the discussion about prohibited employee access to social media has been focused on companies. The kneejerk tendency to insist on these restrictions, though, isn’t limited to management, HR and IT. Even customers can get into the act.

In this case, the “customers” are the citizens of Portsmouth in the UK — or at least those citizens involved in The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which turned the screws on the Portsmouth City Council based on the belief that Council employees accessing Facebook was a “waste of public cash.”

According to a BBC News report, staff was spending 400 hours each month on Facebook, but the math reveals that this comes out to a whopping 5-6 minutes per month per employee. What’s more, the Council allowed staff to use Facebook during breaks and before or after work, and there’s no evidence that any staff members engaged in their social networking outside of those break times.

It also appears that the Council didn’t determine whether any of the time spent on Facebook was dedicated to interacting with Portsmouth citizens, monitoring relevant discussions, vetting possible new hires or engaging in any other activities that would serve the citizens of Portsmouth. Nor, it appears, was there any effort to determine how many hours the average employee spent working on behalf of Portsmouth’s residents, either in the office, at home or on the road.

Citizen taxpayer groups serve a purpose, of course, but given the results of a University of Melbourne study that proves employees with access to social networks are more, not less, productive, the blowhards with The Taxpayers’ Alliance may well have shot themselves in the foot. Rather than energized staff ready to work on their behalf, their misguided actions could well have led many employees to be less motivated. The Melbourne study argues that employees who can take a brief break between tasks and check in on their networks are more energized than those who simply trudge from one task to the next.

The Portsmouth ban will also include Twitter, Bebo and other social sites.

Mark Wallace, speaking for The Taxpayers’ Alliance, is quoted in the BBC article saying, “It is sad that it has reached a point where councils need to ban staff from Facebook. But people are employed to work hard for the taxpayer and this is clearly a waste of public money.”

But with no evidence that the taxpayers are not being well-served by Portsmouth employees, and an average of 5-6 minutes per day on Facebook that could be happening at break time or before or after work, Mr. Wallace’s assertion sounds to me like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. As usual, clearly communicated and consistently enforced policies — management by exception — is a better solution that an outright ban, one that ultimately can have more negative consequences than the non-existent problem the ban purports to fix.

Thanks to Neville Hobson for pointing out the article.

Dell unblocks Facebook

Todd Dwyer, Community Liaison/Environment for Dell, posted an item to the Direct2Dell blog announcing another in a series of environmental conversations taking place over at the company’s ReGeneration site. This one’s a contest in which Facebook members use the Graffiti tool to to express their views on what it means to “Go Green.” Dell’s giving away a green Inspiron laptop to the winner.

In his post, Dwyer noted that Dell has unblocked employee access to Facebook so the company’s workers can view and participate in the contest themselves. Dwyer also wrote that other social media sites have been unblocked, as well. Dell continues to display the characteristics of an enlightened company. Must be a heck of a place to work!

Jeremy Burton on “For Immediate Release”

Today I was lucky enough to interview Jeremy Burton, the CEO of Serena Software, about his belief that encouraging employees to use Facebook provides clear business advantages. The interview was for For Immediate Release, the regular podcast I co-host with my colleague, Neville Hobson. You can get the Burton interview here.