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Much is currently being made in the media of the time employees are ‘wasting’ on social networking website Facebook, and the security risks that social networking sites pose to the organisation and to the knowledge of its employees. Indeed, Sophos last week reported its own research indicating that some 50% of firms are now blocking Facebook, in an attempt to save employees from themselves.

The jury is most definitely still out on Facebook. On the one hand, it in so many ways resembles its predecessors, Orkut, LinkedIn and a long line of et ceteras, though perhaps it has achieved greater mass within organisations than many earlier networking sites. So what’s new? Well, the API is useful for generating rapid application developments, and this feature is leading to constant development of third party applications. And Facebook does have fairly well thought out and sophisticated privacy settings, though it’s up to individuals to set them appropriately. Certain features of Facebook, such as the Groups function, are generally agreed to not meet most users’ requirements, though applications are continuously under development. Putting data into Facebook is a one-way trip: it is just another walled garden. And finally, the Facebook terms and conditions would put the wind up any corporate lawyer. Check out the summary provided by my colleague Mike Butcher, but essentially, ‘all your base are belong to us‘. So something of a mixed bag.

On the other hand, Facebook is being taken seriously by some players. At least one CIO of international repute is now encouraging his employees around the world to work through Facebook when internal systems go down (presumably within the Facebook network created for his organisation). And I don’t think I’m revealing any organisation secrets here, as he did welcome this move on his Facebook status message ;-).

Outside the private sector, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – commonly abbreviated to RSA – is now seriously looking at adopting Facebook, or other social tools such as Ning, to enable the RSA’s thousands of geographically dispersed Fellows to run groups and networks, and develop their activities and projects. The RSA has limited funds, and is reluctant to waste effort on trying to build and then maintain its own systems if it can find the right social tool that provides appropriate functionality, flexibility, and usability. Though developing specialised applications for Facebook may be on the agenda. You can, of course, follow – and join in – the online discussion on Facebook.

While pulling up the Web-based networking drawbridge may appeal to some
organisations, it is difficult to keep up with the rapid developments
in this area: the exercise is akin to using a sieve to hold back a
river. Filters may focus on the flavour of the day, but do those organisations know how much time those same staff are spending on Twitter? Or Pownce? Or…?

My own experience is that the majority of my ‘friends’ on Facebook are in some way work-related, and while there is some water-cooler conversation, it’s also a great way to get really useful information, such as where to find a good wi-fi hotspot in a location you don’t know; or to distribute information widely among a community of interest without invading everybody’s over-stretched inboxes. And the sophistication and usability is better than that found on the average intranet.

I’d also suggest that much that is good or useful has passed from the Web to intranets, but I find it hard to think of innovations that have travelled in the opposite direction. Facebook now houses substantial employee networks for some large organisations. And in any case, we don’t just deal with people within our own walls in our daily work. Rather than banning Web-based social networks and all their works, a good set of guidelines, and perhaps some exploration of potential uses, shortcomings, and lessons for the organisation may be a better investment.

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is DWG’s Managing Director for Member Services. In addition to heading up service delivery, she is responsible for member engagement, retention and growth. Nancy also sits on DWG’s Board of Directors.

Prior to joining the Digital Workplace Group, Nancy was a accomplished executive at JPMorgan Chase where she built and led a global team in desigining and implementing an award-winning intranet. She also led digital enablement and business re-engineering initiatives.

Outside work, Nancy is a wine maker, fundraiser, meditator, wife and mother of two.

Connect with Nancy on Twitter: @nancyatdwg or on Google +.


  1. Hi Louise
    Facebook is not that common in Denmark where I live and work with intranets.
    But it looks like when we years back had management not willing to give the employees an intranet.
    Then employees build them on external servers or intranets mushroomed round the organisation without a corporate plan.
    Later they had to pay the price to consolidate all these intranets into one corporate one.
    Some employees chose to find a new job because they could not share knowledge across the organisation. Now they might choose a new job because they cannot share ideas with other organisations.

  2. Louise Ferguson

    I should of course also have mentioned that Twitter is unlikely to be effectively policed by many organisations, in any case, as interaction is likely to be by means other than desktop browser. So the mania for policing is likely to prove ineffective once we move to mobile apps. And Twitter is reputed to be highly addictive. (I can’t say, as I dare not step into the Twitter space in case my life is no longer my own).

  3. Maria Pia Ghilarducci

    Sono appena stata bloccata con questa motivazione: ” “ìWarning – Blocked from Using Feature ” Ho creato un gruppo e stavo invitando persone che non sono tra i miei contatti, per cui ho necessariamente dovuto farlo coi messaggi. Questo blocco mi sembra assolutamente ingiusto e contrario alla filosofia e agli interessi della stessa facebook.
    Inoltre nessuno ha segnalato che stavo per raggiungere il limite .
    Maria Pia Ghilarducci

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