During a recent strategic planning session with one of my clients the subject of Social Media came up. Almost immediately the owner of the company rolled her eyes back, and made one of those "hrumph" sort of noises, indicating her displeasure. She went on to explain that her employees "waste time" on Facebook, and that productivity suffers as a result. I saw this as an opportunity to explain to her that people may waste time socializing when they should be working, but it is hardly the fault of Facebook.
"Have you ever made a personal phone call from your work phone?" I asked her. A couple of her employees giggled quietly, indicating to me that it was probably a common occurrence. She acknowledged that, of course, she had used her work phone for personal reasons once or twice (more laughter. Louder this time). "Well, what makes it more acceptable to use the phone to socialize, but not Facebook?"
"Facebook is just a bunch of people talking about the trivial little things that no body cares about," she responded. "I just ate a sandwich. I like cookies. Who cares?"
I explained to her that no matter how "trivial" she thinks the conversations are, clearly people care. Facebook did not attract 500 million users because people don't care. And with 500 million people engaging in conversations, it is hardly a communication tool that anyone can ignore.
I suggested to the business owner that if she has employees who are active Facebook users, perhaps she could engage them in developing and maintaining a company presence on Facebook. If a company wants to join the Facebook community, it is a lot better to enlist the help of people who already enjoy using the software. Like any form of communication, it is the person who uses it that makes the difference.
In her last gasp to deny the potential benefit of accepting social media as a new communication tool, she expressed a concern that her employees would misuse Facebook and post in appropriate information.
I stared into her eyes for a few seconds to see if she would discover the flawed logic in her statement on her own. She didn't, so I asked her "if you are worried about them misrepresenting the company, shouldn't you also take away their phone and email account? Better yet, fire them." Finally, she started to understand.
Just because people use social media for social purposes, doesn't mean that is all that it is for. People are smart enough to know that they should communicate in a different manner in different situations. We may speak casually and candidly to a friend on the phone one minute, and then professionally and formally to a potential client the next.
If you are concerned that your employees are spending too much time on Facebook, address the behavior the same way you would if they were using the phone or email in appropriately. Better yet, approach it as an opportunity. Invite them to help you build a social media strategy for your company. It might just be the perfect way to engage them back in their work.