Gregg Bailey

Social media? Not so fast

Have you been feeling pressure to make Facebook available to your user community? If you don’t tweet and blog and Facebook do you feel like a technological Neanderthal?

It seems that much of the push for Web 2.0 and social network tools is based on the perception that this is what the new generation of workers or customers expects. We hear things like: "This is the way that these people communicate and if we don’t accommodate them, we will not connect with them," etc. The implied threat is that we won’t be able to hire them or they won’t be our customers.

Many people are very passionate about the need for these tools in the workplace. Clearly the use of these tools is high and on the rise: Currently, Facebook has 400 million users, millions of whom log on any given day, according to the site. But, have we definitively examined these tools in terms of their value as a social outlet verses a legitimate business tool?

Let me give you an example. Last year, the president, in conjunction with the National Academy of Public Administration, created the Open Government Dialogue Web site to do open brainstorming of public issues. The number one rated comment was related to getting the president to produce his birth certificate; the third most popular topic is about legalizing Marijuana. You can judge whether these are the critical issues facing our nation.

On the other hand, the value of social networking tools was evidenced in the recent events in Haiti and, to a lesser extent, in Chile. But how is this use like something I would use in my business? Sometimes it feels like the tail wagging the dog. Have we really addressed the business value of such tools?

There are obvious cases where good collaboration tools help teams work more effectively together. And there may be some specialized cases, such as the value to a celebrity to have some place to communicate with their fan base. I don’t want to sound like an old stick in the mud or technological Neanderthal, but I do think this is a very serious question. I also recognize that many tools, like the Internet and e-mail, started life in a very similar way.

Is Facebook the next e-mail or is it an interesting social tool for fun? We all know the critical value of e-mail to organizations, but we all also know the tremendous time-waster of too many e-mails (don’t get me started on “reply to all”). In many cases senior people in an organization force their employees to use social networking tools when they really don’t work in that environment, much to the pain of those that are forced to use the tools. I agree that a sandbox to play in is a great way to promote creative thought and that this process will eventually lead to real uses for many of these tools. However, one must decide if in these tough economic times they can afford this type of research and development.

I would say that if you want to explore the use of a Web 2.0 or social networking tool, make sure you are willing to eat the time used for R&D, or that you have a true business case for the use. Once you make that choice, then set metrics and limits on what you are trying to accomplish so that you know if it is working.

What is the impact to potential hires of no corporate sponsorship of Facebook? What is the best way to communicate with customers? These are all fair questions that have been raised and addressed with a lot of discussion and opinion. But equally important are questions about employee productivity and productivity gains. Ultimately what is the real cost versus the benefits?

So far the opinions about such questions have ranged greatly. There seems to be some anecdotal support for any position you want to take, but good hard evidence is hard to come by. Let’s make sure that in the spirit political correctness we are not lead down the path of poor productivity. We should move forward with our eyes wide open.

Posted by Gregg "Skip" Bailey on Apr 09, 2010 at 10:03 AM

Reader Comments

Mon, Jun 14, 2010 Aaron Pearson Minneapolis

I provide B2B and B2G digital strategy and in fact counsel clients not to be enamored with tools (like Facebook) but instead to look for creative ways to accomplish business and communications objectives with social media. I don't think that is dissimilar from what you are advocating. Be strategic, know your audience, know how they use information and interact with each other. But know that changes are coming. Some people have all but abandoned email in favor of Twitter. Others thers have created very valuable private communities of niche experts, say for example, around business process outsourcing, on business focused communities like LinkedIn. I believe we need to encourage innovative ways to connect key audiences and constituencies together, and access to these sites is the only way for these innovative ideas to develop. Leaders still need to decide which ideas deserve financial and staff resources based on their expected contribution to organizational objectives.

Fri, May 21, 2010 re: business value

It seems that facebook and other such social networking sites are the new fad, both for business and leisure. While I agree that these tools will not provide value to many firms, there are a great deal that will benefit from them. It's an issue top management should address and I believe as time goes on many who tried it will see whether it adds value or not.

Tue, Apr 13, 2010

The President needs social media to reach out to the few who still support him. Unfortunately, this group doesn't make enough to pay for the programs the President is pushing and the rest of us have to pay for.

Mon, Apr 12, 2010

CISOs in the federal government, who are being pressed to protect their networks, face a daunting task because their senior managers are being pressed to open them up to public social media.

Mon, Apr 12, 2010

I wish this common sense talk, which I espoused over a year ago, would have made it into the ears of the DoD Dep SecDef and the Joint Staff. They have drank the "kool-aid" of perceived benefits, and all military services have to now open access from protected networks, thus undoing our years of computer network defense.

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