Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Facebook costing businesses?

In BBC a story titled, "Facebook 'costs businesses dear" a study done by an employment law firm estimated that companies could be losing at least 130 million pounds sterling (convert to your own currency, its a whopping amount). This estimation comes about as a result of the survey of 3500 companies in the UK.

The firm recommends that businesses need to take firm action on the "use of social networks at work."

Part of me wonders, however, how accurate this 'loss of productivity' may be. While I am by no means an apologist for Facebook, it is important to be critical of the constructs with which these studies are working. How is 'productivity' operationalized? How are they measuring the 'results' (professionally, socially, psychologically) from engagement in these sites that may allow people to nurture their social networks. Have they correlated this with expenses (avoided?) that may have arisen in pubs after work (as a result of interaction, or instead of)? Have they looked at commerce and knowledge flows resulting from people's social networks? There is a reason for the popular saying, "it's who you know."

Couple this with research on Facebook that states many relationships on huge lists of 'friends' are actually meaningless. Of course, there are 'friends' who 'friend' you who you don't really care about. Facebook, for me, has more been about keeping in touch with my friends I have met offline working in various industries that have diffused my social network all over the world. It is more a way people are negotiating relationships in current labour conditions that make us diasporic.

On a related note, I am working right now on interviewing firms on the social dynamics of innovation for the nationwide ISRN project. Specifically, what are local systems of innovation and how do we account for relationships fostered locally and globally--looking at the city as a porous social entity. It's a growing area of concern because purely economic explanations are inadequate when looking at human interaction, technology, and knowledge flows.

I bring these issues up because there is also a persistent trend in the villianizing of new media, citing lack of productivity (in Facebook, online games, etc). However, I think that notions of productivity as it relates to labour also need to change. Do these same firms expect employees to put in much of their otherwise 'free' time at work for salary? If so, 'information snacking' is, I believe part of the bargain as long as work on project bases get achieved. This implies changes in organizational structures, which some firms may have already accomodated, fully or partially.

That reminds me, I gotta go check my Facebook.
(Btw, I turn off all my 'email notifications' so I don't get sidetracked at work. Simple strategies.:)

See the full story here>>

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Blogger Richard said...

Nice analysis, Florence. A critical eye is always required - especially when the "study" is done by an employment firm, no doubt to gain attention. And, when you think of it, 130 million pounds sounds like a lot but spread across all UK businesses that is probably not as significant as the cost of dust in the workplace causing hay fever. Not to mention that there is no consideration of the "net" impact (i.e., the positive contribution from a connection made, or an employee found) of so called "group forming networks," like Facebook.

3:33 PM  

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