Are Social Networking Sites Ready For The Work Place?

by Sachin Balagopalan on July 18, 2007 · 1 comment

As an employee I was able to register with the IBM network on FaceBook by providing an active IBM email address during registration. I often use the site’s messaging system to communicate with my colleagues and I was even able to re-connect with some old college buddies who now work for IBM as well. The one glaring fact however is nearly all my messages via FaceBook are usually non-work related. If I need to communicate something that’s work related I always resort to “old reliable”, Lotus Notes email or Sametime chat. I suspect I’m not the only one. Other companies like Microsoft have their company network set up on social networking sites like FaceBook and employees use it to stay in touch and communicate with their colleagues. But social networking is not yet ubiquitous in the work place like email and chat are.

So why haven’t social networking sites penetrated the work place yet? Well for starters it’s a pretty recent phenomenon and moreover it’s the college crowd that make up the majority of the user base (however that is changing considerably - I saw a statistic recently stating that 35 and older are now the fastest growing subscribers on FaceBook). The IT departments are not on board yet in most cases and in large companies it’s the IT department that ultimately rolls out enterprise wide applications. LinkedIn is the only networking site that is geared towards the corporate user but the site is best suited for making introductions only and lacks the functionality for maintaining on-going community based relationships (like FaceBook or MySpace).

From a technical standpoint it makes total sense to use a social networking site at the workplace. You have an integrated messaging interface that allows users to send private messages to individuals or group of individuals (email), you can have an on going conversation with others (chat) and you can post company wide notifications/messages (bulletin board). In addition to messaging a slew of widgets (applications) that enable people to do their jobs like calendar, todo list, conferencing, white boarding etc. can easily be implemented and all integrated into one nicely packaged website to boot.

The road block of-course is privacy and IP protection. Just as employees are discouraged from using free email services like GMail or Hotmail for conducting business, social networking sites are outside the firewall and in its current state are not exactly secure and conducive to business. This should not deter corporate usage of social networking sites however. Corporations and businesses should implement their own enterprise wide social networking sites modeled after the public sites with all the privacy controls and audit trails in place. The biggest problem in my mind however is weening people away from email and chat and onto the social network site. As the current college crowd graduates and enters the work place this will eventually become a non-issue. But for the time being most of us rely on Email and chat to stay informed at the work place. In fact I’m usually notified via email that someone has sent me a FaceBook message. :-)
I think social networking sites will eventually become prevalent at the work place and I dare say could even replace email and chat. Business and more importantly IT departments need to recognize this paradigm shift and should start preparing by ironing out the kinks like the privacy issues and conducting pilot programs to ease employees into this new paradigm. After all email which is deemed as the first killer app. for the internet was born on college campuses and eventually made it out into the business world.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Roger derson 07.19.07 at 1:48 am

People in our office have been using Congoo but we are all real estate professionals. I see however that they have other industry categories to choose from. Facebook seems like its for college kids and I tried linkedin but they charge if you try to contact someone outside of my network. If I can only contact people I know, isnt that called outlook?

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