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John Stokdyk



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Getting to grips with the Facebook phenomenon


FacebookThe social networking phenomenon has dominated the HR profession during the past year – and split it down the middle. Technology editor John Stokdyk looks at how HR managers and software suppliers have responded.

A year ago, Facebook barely registered in debates and discussions on – often as a useful barometer for HR managers’ concerns. But since last summer, nearly 40 articles have mentioned social networking and the issues raised have illustrated the way new tools can create excitement and fear in equal measures.

By September last year it was reported that an estimated 50% of employers had disciplined employees for wasting time on social networking sites, and a similar proportion of employees had been affected by bans on Facebook.

Commentators highlighted an array of threats posed by the new fad for sharing your innermost thoughts with online friends:

  • Employment law firm Peninsula claimed social networking sites would cost employers £30.8bn a year in lost productivity

  • Defamatory comments and information leaks could damage employers’ reputations; and

  • Ill-advised comments and images that remain in the public domain for years could blight the prospects of job seekers.

According to Comscore’s estimate, 78% of UK residents who use the internet also use social networking sites. Those who look on the brighter side of the Web 2.0 phenomenon pointed to the ‘talent goldmine’ that lay in sites such as Facebook. “It’s filled with millions of passive candidates that employers covet,” comments founder Chris Russell.

Protect yourself online

Online recruitment specialist Fish4jobs recently published some advice on how to make sure your social networking activities would not affect your prospects. The tips included:

1. If you blog, consider blogging anonymously.

2. When you open a social networking account, make your profile as private as possible.

3. To avoid being embarrassed by compromising photos, untag the images, or set the privacy level so that only you and your friends can view them.

Source: How to protect yourself on social networks

The business-oriented LinkedIn site, for example, can help employers and job hunters by giving a more rounded view of people’s experiences and capabilities that a paper CV. And online groupings provide a way to maintain relationships with people who may be able to make a contribution to the organisation at another time.

Turning to the role social networking plays in internal culture and communication, ClickAJob’s chief executive Yngve Traberg points out: “If employees have a passion for engaging with each other, their enthusiasm becomes unstoppable if their employer is involved too.”

In an article for, Jackie Cameron argued that social networking had a major role to play in supporting learning and creativity in the workplace. How an organisation reacted to Facebook came down to “whether you see an encouragement to network as encroaching on your personal time or an opportunity to continue to develop”, she wrote.

In an effort to resolve the issue, held an online poll on whether employers should ban Facebook. And with poetic inevitability, the 140 participants split exactly down the middle.

Further research by Webster Buchanan, on behalf of Computers in Personnel, in March this year found that senior HR professionals were not yet convinced of the advantages of using sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn as recruitment aids. Social networking was the 10th most useful recruiting tool, attaining a score of 2.27 on a scale of 1-5 (5 was ‘most useful’).

Overall, the survey found relatively low levels of web use for HR and recruitment functions – only 16% of respondents were currently able to accept job applications submitted via their sites. But the survey predicted that web-based techniques would start to play a more significant role in recruitment and HR management over the next two years.

New opportunities

Faced with that scenario, several software developers have spotted new opportunities around the social networking phenomenon. Temperus, for example, responded to corporate ambivalence by developing a program for monitoring staff internet use.

“Social networking sites can be used for perfectly legitimate purposes, but they open up risks of employees using up a big part of their working day on personal stuff,” notes Temperus managing director Simon Norris.

“Organisations have to deal with it on a case-by-case basis and decide whether the benefits are significant enough to take a more liberal approach.” Rather than alienating staff with outright bans, Temperus promotes a more open approach, he explains. “As long as employees manage their time in a responsible way, it’s better for everybody. It creates a better working environment and puts more trust in employees themselves. It’s perfectly reasonable for an employee to do their banking at their desk rather than have to go and queue at the bank during their lunch hour. That helps everybody.”

The Temperus product measures the amount of time staff spend on websites and work applications. It then reports back to both to staff themselves and managers how they spend their working day. “The idea is to do that in a very open way,” says Norris.

“There’s nothing sinister about it, it’s simply looking at the way they use their time in the workplace – how they organise their day and the time spent on social networking sites, CRM software and so on. Employers can look at data and draw conclusions on what they expect the working habits of their employees to be.”

Companies can classify different sites as work or non-work and set parameters such as the percentage of time on Facebook that might be considered work-related – important, for example, in a recruitment organisation.

CPI Experiences and, meanwhile, have developed applications that borrow many of the features of Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace for staff development purposes. Jobpartners describes ActiveNetworking as a “software as a service” Web 2.0 solution that can be configured to align with company policies on which external sites can be used, and can integrate wikis, blogs and website news feeds into company intranets.

ActiveNetworker lets employees list their interests, experiences and skills and to seek out colleagues with common interests within the company. Jobpartners developed ActiveNetworker in close collaboration with French mobile phone operator SFR, where its “My SFR” intranet includes a company blog, discussion forums and pages where employees can build personal profiles to share information about career progress and goals.

According to the developer, the system can help new employees learn about the company and its culture – and HR managers can get to know employees and their talents and interests to improve internal mobility.

Social networking sites are not going to go away and as Norris of Temperus points out, people also spend a lot of time chatting at the water cooler or on the phone.

Like any tool, social networking can facilitate good and bad behaviour. Facebook and its like may represent a new phenomenon, but the companies operating in this area emphasise that the principles for coping with it are no different that those governing mobile phone, car or office equipment use.

Rather than hoping the sites will go away, employers need to educate themselves and their employees about the issues raised, define clear boundaries for appropriate behaviour, and communicate them clearly.

2 Responses

  1. Be clear on your objective
    Most of what I read about web 2.0 / social networking suggests that we need to think about how social technology (blogging, podcasting etc) can be used in business. I’m worried this will take us down the wrong path.

    Experience in various areas, for example, e-learning, suggests that the actual technology doesn’t matter that much; it’s how this is used as part of a blended solution to achieve certain learning and business outcomes that counts.

    So I think we may need to focus much more on the business benefit of web 2.0, and then think about how technology, as well as non-technological approaches, can support delivery of the required outcome.

    And to me, the main business benefit is increased connection, which can then lead to a large number of further, supplementary advantages for example, collaboration, collective intelligence, employee engagement etc.

    Do you agree? I would be grateful if you would please add your insights and perspectives to a short survey that is available at:

    I will of course be happy to send out the survey findings and my conclusions from the results.

    You will also find more thoughts about the importance of connecting within people management and development (including comments on web 2.0) at my blog: .

    Jon Ingham.

  2. Reduce recruitment spend working social networks
    We have saved over AUS$3m in the last year alone by finding candidates on social networks and by automating that and other parts of the recruitment process. Although it is possibly too soon to confirm it, we reckon that our new starter turn-over has dropped drastically and interest in us as an employer has rocketed from our hiring this way. I am more than happy to share with other senior execs of non-competing corporates, so contact me on [email protected] if you want to know more!

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