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10/26/2009
09:45 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Twitter, Facebook Waste $2B Annually In U.K. Economy

Calling the personal use of social media by businesspeople during the workday "a productivity black hole," a British IT services company said more than half of the 1,460 surveyed employees said they spend up to 40 minutes per week on such sites. I'd say that while those numbers might be accurate, the conclusion is astoundingly shallow.

Calling the personal use of social media by businesspeople during the workday "a productivity black hole," a British IT services company said more than half of the 1,460 surveyed employees said they spend up to 40 minutes per week on such sites. I'd say that while those numbers might be accurate, the conclusion is astoundingly shallow.From an Economic Times of India article:

One in three of the 1,460 office workers surveyed also said they had seen sensitive company information posted on social networking sites, leading to fears about how workers use the Internet, [London's] The Daily Telegraph reported.

Three quarters of the office workers surveyed said their employer had not given them any specific guidelines on how to use Twitter, but 84 per cent believed it should be up to them what they post online.

Now, surely some employees abuse the privilege of open Internet access at work, but I'm not sure exactly what solution is being suggested by the IT-services company, called Morse, that commissioned this study. If we take the figure reported in the survey for misspent time each week-40 minutes-and divide by five, we get a grand total of 8 squandered minutes per day.

The very nature of social media blurs traditional boundaries around what has always been considered "work" and what is "personal." If a salesperson who loves golf meets a client for 18 holes of golf, is that 100% "work"? If an office worker is communicating with clients or prospects or suppliers via social media and in the course of that engagement spends a minute or two on an admittedly non-business communication, should the employer ban social media to ensure that a handful of minutes each day aren't used for personal exchanges?

Here's a bit more from the Economic Times article:

Philip Wicks, consultant at Morse, the IT services and technology company which commissioned the survey, said the true cost to the economy could be substantially higher than the 1.38 billion pounds estimate. "When someone is asked for their own use they say around 40 minutes a week, but when asked about their colleagues they say they say up to an hour a day. We have used the lower of those figures rather than the high point.

"It is the sort of thing people constantly use which means that its not quite the same as doing a crossword, where you spend half an hour on it and it is finished. When it comes to an office environment the use of these sites is clearly becoming a productivity black hole.

"Social networking can be a cause for good when it is used professionally but I think organisations need to wake up-that is not the way it is always being used," he was quoted as saying.

Employees these days should have clear-cut and unambiguous responsibilities, and if social media help them meet and exceed those responsibilities, then bully for them-that's the wave of the future. Outside of obviously egregious violations of company policy such as posting sensitive company information on such sites, companies that attempt to rein in such powerful new tools by imposing draconian definitions and monitoring systems will only be hurting themselves.

And if U.K. companies decide to heed the sky-is-falling warnings from Morse, then the cumulative impact on the British economy of cutting itself off from 21st-century communication will end up being a lot more than $2 billion.

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