The unintended consequences of Facebook-fear in the workplace


The second most asked question I receive about social networking from my off-line business friends who know “I do something related to all that stuff” is about some negative situation related to employees use of Facebook or Twitter. Usually it relates to wasting time or some horror story they’ve read or heard about.

I tell them that at Hammock, all online time-wasting social-networking services are blocked. (OK, that was a joke.) Actually, some of our employees spend most of their days living in social media — they serve as hosts and guides and community builders and wiki taxonomists and forum moderators and developers — heck, they even blog about it when not actually doing it — which, I guess, sorta is doing it, but I digress.

What about that “wasting time” question?

The baseline universal rule for keeping your job, anywhere (unless you happen to be in a senior management position at a daily newspaper company or record label) is “Don’t be dumb.” It’s certainly that way at Hammock. Most “not dumb” people know when they cross the line and spend too much work time doing personal stuff. However, as an employer who’s been known to IM employees about projects way into the wee hours of the night (hey, they were online and they know how to make their avatar invisible, so they were asking for it, okay), I also know that in today’s world, work-time and not-work-time sometimes have a way of overlapping.

Without getting into the specific ways our work flow provides certain transparencies and peer-pressure for insuring personal responsibility, quality, timliness and professionalism, let me just say, we don’t need rules about using Facebook — ridicule and mocking from co-workers seems to work better than rules. Also, when everyone in an office is on Facebook, including the boss, it’s hard to “hide out” there. (Note: We don’t Bozeman our employees.)

That said, I have never considered joining the counter-intuitive school of thought among a small group of  employers who actually seek employees who have as many Facebook friends as possible. But earlier today, I read this post by my friend, Stephen Baker: Wanna job? How many friends do you have on Facebook?. In it, Stephen points to Total Attorneys, a Chicago firm with over 200 employees that provides outsourced services to law firms. Actively recruiting employees, the fast-growing company has started considering the size of a new employee’s “friends” on Facebook. The more, the better — all those contacts can help lead to potential new employees or clients.

Personally, I’m not in favor of anyone using their Facebook account to spam commercial messages. But if someone is sharing news with their friends about a job opening or talking about projects in a way that is beneficial, appropriate and natural for them to share, then I believe such conversation is not only a way to view use Facebook and other social media, but is likely the only effective way to use them for business reasons.

Again — and emphatically — I’m not saying that one should be judged by the number of “friends” they have on Facebook. And I’m certainly not encouraging people to waste work time on personal communication. (Don’t be dumb.)

What I’m saying is that if you only focus on all the potential negative effects of social media in the work place, such cluelessness could lead to some tremendously missed opportunities.