Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Do you know? Facebook and Twitter and blogs, oh my! What is social networking and why should you care?

The history of social networking Cave drawings were likely the earliest form of social networking. Today people tweet their thoughts for the world to see. In between we’ve had instant messaging, MySpace, Facebook, and blogs. The next several big things are already being hatched by some students at Stanford or MIT. Online social networking is here to stay – the only change will be in what form it takes.

According to a recent survey conducted by Deloitte, 22% of employees say that they use some form of social networking five or more times per week, and 15% of employees admit they access social networking while at work for personal reasons. Yet, only 22% of companies have a formal policy that guides employees in how they can use social networking at work.

Before we can figure out what to do about these exploding media at work, we first need to know exactly what we are dealing with. So, for the uninitiated, the following is a short lesson on the various types of social networking that are likely being accessed from your workplace right now.
  • Blogs: Blog is short for weblog. Blogs either provide commentary on news or a particular subject (such as the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog), or serve as an online diary. Most are text-based, but blogs can also focus on art, photos, videos, and audio (you may have heard of podcasts). There are hundreds of millions of blogs on the internet, many updated as often as every day.
  • Facebook: Facebook started as an online tool for college and university students to connect with each other. It has since expanded to allow anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address to open a free account. It is loosely organized into a variety of networks based on schools, location, employers, charities, and other causes. Connections are known as “friends.” People update with short written blurbs about what they’re doing, pictures, video, and the like. Users can also post on friends’ pages. If you’re not on Facebook, I guarantee someone you know is. In fact, Facebook has over 200 million registered users. Even my mom has a Facebook page.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is an online network for professionals. It allows people to search and connect via alma mater, location, employer, or various user-created groups. It has over 41 million members.
  • Twitter: Twitter is latest big-thing in social networking. It is what is known as “micro-bloggings.” “Tweets” are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to followers, other users who have subscribed.
Employers have three options to try to regulate social networking by employees at work: 1) turn off their internet access; 2) institute progressively harsher discipline against employees caught Facebooking or tweeting at work; or 3) draft a reasonable policy that recognizes the intersection of technology in the workplace and employees’ lives, and establishes reasonable baseline expectations about what is and is not acceptable use at work. Only the latter option makes any real sense.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the pieces and parts that comprise a useable social networking policy. Until then, feel free to follow my 140 character thoughts on Twitter @jonhyman.