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
- Competitive intelligence
- Content curation
- 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.