Facebook visited twice as often as Google in the workplace (and why you shouldn’t ban social media at work)

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28/365 Far too much time on Facebook
Image by smileham via Flickr

Employees are visiting Facebook more than any other site when they are at work, and twice as often as the second most visited site, Google. Research out this week from Network Box, a Managed Security Services company, shows that visits to the social network accounted for 6.8% of all workplace traffic in Q1 2010, exactly twice the 3.4% of all traffic that went to Google. The research is based on analysing 13 billion URLs visited by a sample of workplaces in Q1 2010 and the company behind the research suggest that they underline the fact that IT Managers should be concerned about the amount of time employees are spending on social networks at work.

But the findings are not as clear-cut as this. And they should not be used to add weight to the misguided corporate policy of banning all access to social networks at work.

People are more likely to access Facebook out of work than in work

In March we saw Facebook become the most visited site in the US. With 7.1% of all web traffic (from workplaces, home and all other locations) going to Facebook. A smaller proportion of workplace traffic goes to Facebook than the average for all traffic. And, whilst we don’t have this data, we can infer that traffic from home must be much higher to average in this way.

People are visiting Facebook at work - but are visiting the site less often at work than out of work.

People are much more likely to visit other sites

By saying that Facebook is the most visited site from the workplace hides the fact that many many other sites are visited. In fact people are almost 20 times more likely to be visiting a site that is not Facebook. And because different people use the internet for different things to do different jobs it is unlikely that there are many websites that are common to them all. A law firm might ind that its employees spend the overwhelming majority if their time on legal journals and regulation websites, for example. But the sites visited in an Estate Agency or FMCG business would be very different. By aggregating all of these different people, doing different things in different industries there are likely to be very few common sites.

And let’s not forget that 6.8% of all web traffic is still quite small and could easily all take place during a lunch hour.

Social media sites are not necessarily bad

There is an assumption in some workplaces that social media and social networking sites are necessarily bad for employees. I have seen some internal social media policies that state “We should discourage employees from using social media”. This is dangerous and also denies the benefit that social media can bring to any organisation. Social media is becoming increasingly important for any business - wanting to work with and engage stakeholders, customers and even employees themselves online.

Social media can be scary - and  even business needs to write a social media policy. But the basis of this should not be banning things but encouraging people to use things. Your employees are already talking about your company in social media, talking to customers and representing you. Whether you know it or not and whether you want them to or not. The best approach is not to ban people but to give them training. To tell them what is reasonable and what is not and to encourage them to represent the business appropriately online.

Firms don’t ban employees from talking to other people, answering the phone or responding to emails. But they do give them training on how to do these things and what they should, and shouldn’t, say. They should take this approach to social media and not one that bans things.

Most firms are anxious because they have no social media policy

Most firms are anxious about the amount of time employees are spending on social media sites for two reasons:

  • They don’t understand what they are doing on the sites
  • They have no policy to deal with it

The simplest thing any business should do is to write a social media policy, and to write one that encourages people to use and to represent themselves and the firm in social media in the right way. The policy should not ban, but should offer training. Employees are using social media already and talking about their employer the work that they do. They should be your best brand advocates online, but banning social media will not achieve this.

Research by Manpower earlier this year showed that 80% of firms have no social media policy. For me this is the biggest concern, not the amount of time people are spending on certain sites relative to other sites.

Does your firm not have a social media policy?

If your firm is one of the 80% without a social media policy then take a look at our previous posts on:

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Twitter and Facebook follow Foursquare - 2010 is the year of location-based social media tools

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Where is @mattrhodes?It is a truth universally acknowledged that everybody makes predictions at the end of a year about ‘the big thing for next year’. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. And sometimes you only really start to notice trends and change when you are in them. In social media it is becoming clearer and clearer that the big thing for 2010 is location-based tools.

We’ve posted before about how businesses can use Foursquare and only yesterday about Fourwhere, the Foursquare and Google Maps mashup. Foursquare is a great tool that lets you share where you are and add tips and reviews of cafes, shops, restaurants, bars, theatres. Anywhere really. From a business perspective it can offer invaluable insight into who visits your business, how often, what they think about it and where else they go. All good stuff. Of course, there is a serious downside to location-based tools (as we saw with Please Rob Me) and people should be aware of and sensible about any information they share in social media.

Why are location-based social media tools growing?

Location based social media tools are possible because more and more people own mobile phones that are GPS enabled. Phones that can tell you where you are and plot this information on a map. This is then data that can be shared with others or used in conjunction with discussions, reviews and other information to build a resource and community that is location-dependent.

There are many instances where location can add significant value to an online community:

  • People reviewing cafes and bars in a certain area and recommending places people might like to visit
  • People sharing tips of good and safe running routes
  • Groups of local activists looking to organise themselves
  • Parents wanting to find other parents near them to help organise safe walking to school
  • People wantingto identify and report on things that need mending in their neighbourhood
  • Friends wanting to share their location and tell others where they are

The utility of location in social media is huge and there are many cases where tying location to reviews, discussions and other content will really help, either for those generating the content or those looking for and benefiting from it. Adding in location could also save us from updates that say “Iam at…” with that information instead being tagged as in the tweet above. You can use the update to say something that has real semantic value rather than just indicating where you are.

What’s happening and what’s coming

Location-based tools are not new but they are growing and new developments are happening all the time as people use them more and in different ways. Some important developments recently discussed are as follows.

  • Twitter: Twitter has for some time allowed users to tag their updates with their location details - this has mainly been done through third-party apps, such as Tweetdeck, and to date locations have not been shown on Twitter’s own website. Briefly this week they started showing location on Tweets on their site - with maps overlaying tweets on both the individual tweet page and on the main stream. This update was quickly disabled but adding this back in would certainly add significant value to the Twitter site and pave the way for search for people and issues that are trending ‘near me’ - based on where people are when they share their information and not where they say they are in their location.
  • Foursquare: Foursquare is growing in use and in the ways in which people are using it. The most significant recent development is increased analytics for businesses. They have recently introduced a dashboard for businesses to see information about who had ‘checked-in’ at their location. This reports on when people check-in, how they communicate this (do they share it on Twitter, for example), the people who visit them most often and those who visit most recently. This is useful and valuable information for any brand as it lets you start to understand your customers in a way that you haven’t previously been able to do. Brands should be taking advantage of Foursquare and of the ability to control their profiles (adding in ‘Staff’ for example) and should use this dashboard and analytics in a clever way to inform their understanding of their customers and identification of their advocates.
  • Facebook: Perhaps the most interesting announcement this week is talk of developments at Facebook to include location features. The speculation is that location will accompany status updates and changes to Facebook’s Terms and Conditions last November appear to have been made in preparation for this (“When you share your location with others or add a location to something you post, we treat that like any other content you post.”) Sharing location in Facebook status updates would highlight both the importance of mobile use of Facebook and of the spread of location-based social media tools. It will also add yet another set of data that Facebook captures, can report on and can be used by other users to find people, information and discussions. It will be interesting to watch both what Facebook release and how users use it, but it is likely to yet again highlight the importance of search to Facebook as the amount of data and content it captures grows.
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