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Frivolous Facebook Fridays?

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The use of social networking tools hasn't exactly taken off in the workplace as many employers are banning the use of Facebook, MySpace and other online communities as a time waster. However, one company is aggressively asking employees to use Facebook to build relationships with each other and customers. Will it work?

Recently, Business Week had a brief article titled, "Now Social Networking Fridays" that described one company's attempt at using social networking tools to improve recruiting, networking and even employee morale. The company in question, Serena Software, has launched "Facebook Fridays" where employees are asked to spend one hour each Friday to "update their profiles, collaborate with colleagues and clients, and recruit for Serena."

The goal of Facebook Fridays, according to SVP Rene Bonvanie, is to "get people to communicate and collaborate more." On the whole, this doesn't seem like a bad idea, especially if your community and customers are mostly online.

However, for a guy like me that already spends 50+ hours on the computer each week, I'd like to suggest some balance to the idea of spending an hour on a social networking site.

Assuming there is true business value derived from this activity (and it's a big assumption that employees aren't just goofing off) I'd like to propose some alternate ideas for Facebook Fridays:

* Improve your public speaking, communication and leadership skills by joining a weekly Toastmasters meeting.
* Spend the hour each week networking at a local Rotary, Lions or other similar club
* Volunteer for a non-profit in a leadership capacity, or just volunteer. There's great opportunities to network and build bridges with community leaders and in most cases, you can get away with volunteering an hour a week.
* Join a local professional's organization or special interest group in your industry or discipline. An example might be the Bay Area's Wireless Users Group.
* Join a local American Marketing Association chapter for the networking and learning opportunities
* Spend the hour on a new research topic, experiment, or "just thinking"-- similar to a policy Google has in place
* Worse case scenario, go low tech. Pick up one of those archaic things, I think they're called a telephone, call a customer and inquire about his or her kids, golf game, hobbies or anything of substance.

Please note, I'm not a technology Luddite (I've been in the information technology field for 15 years), nor am I anti Web 2.0.

I do believe, however, that when it comes to networking, recruiting, and connecting–especially building first-time relationships, there's no substitute for in-person or at the very least–telephone meetings.

* Are "FaceBook Fridays," as conceived by Serena Software, frivolous?
* If you worked at Serena Software, what alternative suggestions (if any) might you offer to CEO Jeremy Burton?

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.

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  • by Dan Schawbel Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    I think this is a great idea. Otherwise people are just operating in the traditional way, which is a disadvantage.

  • by Paul Barsch Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Dan, thank you for joining the conversation. No doubt, in this instance, social networking tools offer a new way to communicate. I'd simply like to see some options given to Serena employees.

  • by Lewis Green Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Paul, I agree with everyone of your suggestions and with the premise behind them. However, I also like asking employees to network online during work hours. If I were the decision maker behind this effort, I would free-up an additional hour for employees to build relationships face-to-face with customers and potential customers. Why not do both?

  • by Paul Barsch Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Lewis, thank you for commenting. Perhaps I have indeed given you a false dichotomy. As you pointed out, I simply hope there is a choice of options for employees of the company in question, and other companies considering this idea.

  • by Wendy Kovitz Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Great article. I can't wait to see more companies working with relationship capital, instead of against it.

  • by Lewis Green Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Paul, I agree. To gain employee buyin, managers need to meet a variety of wants and needs by offering choices for building relationships and for doing good. Although I always give to United Way, I was offended when that was the one option my company offered for giving back. I hear you. Good post.

  • by Michaline Todd Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    You are making the false assumption that Serena employees are only allowed one hour of online networking time each week. You can't be more wrong. It is not that we're limited or "required" to be using Facebook for an hour -- but rather encouraged to reach out to people who work around the world, but may have similar interests -- wheher on Facebook, Linkedin, Instant Messenger or any other social networking site/medium. Serena does lots of other things to encourage live interactions --but Facebook has been a convenient and fun way to make connections with friends, co-workers, customers and business partners around the world. (something you can't do by heading to the local Toastmasters meeting.) Besides, I'd think that as marketers, you'd all get that "Facebook Fridays" is an easy way to market the concept internally to employees -- not a prescription for what's expected.

  • by Paul Barsch Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Michaline, thanks for weighing in. The Business Week article did not specify other options for employees at Sererna -social networking or not. That said, it makes sense there would/should be other alternatives and communication options offered and encouraged by companies to connect to customers, partners and employees on a local, national or global basis.

  • by Ted Mininni Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Paul, Couldn't agree with this statement more: "I do believe, however, that when it comes to networking, recruiting, and connecting–especially building first-time relationships, there's no substitute for in-person or at the very least–telephone meetings." If a company is very large, I can see that there might be some value in encourgaging employees to use social networking. But then: what happens to face-to-face dialogues in small to mid-size companies? And if some employees get too involved in this and take more than an hour to social network here and there, what happens to productivity?

  • by B.L Ochman Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Michaline Todd who works for Serena said you're making a false assumption. Listen to her. They have choices, and they are very much grounded in reality - which nowadays includes social networking online.

  • by Tangerine Toad Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    There's a huge problem with using Facebook at work: Facebook is set up to allow teenagers to expose their social lives to each other. I don't need to know what movies people I do business with like, which movie star they're most like or what song they lost their virginity to. I don't need them to bite me as a Vampire or match their musical tastes to mine. They're people I work with. Not my friends. LinkedIn is how I connect with people I work with. Precisely because it doesn't force me to interact with them and limits the amount of personal information that's exchanged.

  • by Paul Barsch Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    Ted, you raise an interesting point about productivity and it got me thinking. I'd like to pose another question to the MP community. I have some ideas, but still chewing on it for a complete answer. Let's assume the concept of social networking Friday's are a good idea. Let's also assume we limit our one hour to interacting on social networking sites only. Let's also assume a 40 hour workweek. Essentially then, we are taking one or more hours from the workweek to spend on relationship building "online". Those hour/s, of course, could be spent on other activities–assuming again, those activities are also creating business value. With these assumptions, how does one measure the "business value" of social networking Friday's? Intrinsically, it appears there would be value. So how does one measure it? Or can it be measured? Should it be measured?

  • by Paul Barsch Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    TT, thank you for commenting. Perhaps, among other reasons, this is why a recent poll of 600 employees by security vendor Sophos PLC showed 43 percent saying that their company was blocking access to Facebook.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    TToad, you have a way with words! Perfectly said.

  • by Tangerine Toad Fri Nov 9, 2007 via blog

    @Paul: If only. The sort of workplace fascism you point out has nothing to do with the inherent value of Facebook (or lack thereof) as it does with employers foolishly treating their workers like children. Foolishly, because said workers will not perform. Check out this post from WheresMyJetpack about life in one such corporation: @Neil: THank you. I try.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Sat Nov 10, 2007 via blog

    TToad can land a punch! I respect that. Give people objectives and the freedom to meet them. Judge them on results. Who cares if they go on Facebook or not?

  • by Chris Maguire Mon Nov 12, 2007 via blog

    This is a great concept and idea. Sometimes great concepts and ideas just aren't appropriate for all business models. All marketing efforts are only successful if there are measurement metrics defined before execution. Once the metrics are defined the workforce now is allowed to use their imagination and skills within the boundaries of expectations.

  • by Paul Barsch Tue Nov 13, 2007 via blog

    Chris, thank you for commenting. I think you have it right that social networking Friday's are not appropriate for every company. For example, I worked at an IT company with a long and storied history of a button up, suit culture. This "idea" would never fly there. Like you, I'd also love to see what metrics, could/should be applied to measure the success or failure of this idea...

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