Networking or not working? – The value of social networking

For those of us that use the net during work time, there are two types of networking sites, those that can aid learning, productivity and build business relationships and those that can slow or even stop work in its tracks. In this article, I explore the risks to individuals and businesses in the growing use of personal contact sites.

Personality types
Are you the type of person that enjoys getting post or personal emails. For some of us, personal messages from people they know (or don’t know) causes excitement and fun. The feeling is almost addictive. What am I talking about? Well do you have your MSN or Yahoo messenger running while at work? Ready for people you know to chat to you? Do you feel compelled to talk when someone you know appears online? At best, this is a distraction; at its worst, it can disable some individuals from doing any work at all. But this is not the worst of it. With people we know our feelings and reaction to people we know is more often or not within reasonable control.

Are you ‘addicted’ to instant messaging?
Checking your email once or twice a day is one thing, but being permanently connected is quite another.

How can you tell if you are addicted to messaging? For some this can be quite easy. It is about how far you go to get your ‘fix’ of chatting with people you know.

If you work for a company that has blocked your favourite messaging site, then you use search engines to find alternatives – you use one of the ‘framed’ or java based sites, as the chances are your IT department has not blocked that yet… One of the better known MSN/ Yahoo replacements is ebuddy. This is a great site which allows you to access your instant messaging site and avoid the block on some company firewalls. When your company stops one you happily spend time searching for another.

Taking it to extremes
What knocks some people ‘off balance’ is the use of personal/ social networking and dating sites. Here users await messages from people they do not know, checking in many times a day. When a new message appears in your inbox this causes a completely different reaction to messages in ‘conventional’ email inboxe. For many it causes a flood of adrenalin and endorphins as the thought of a message causes excitement, wondering who it is from and whether it is the start of a new relationship or not. For a few, it is stronger than that, with married people looking for that illicit encounter. Then once contact has been made, that individual is then added to a messenger contact list – making talk that is more frequent inevitable. For some people this takes ‘office relationships’ to a completely different level. Then some people start to carry another (second or third mobile phone) just for contact with these ‘special friends’. This can not only lead to reductions in productivity, it can lead to individuals taking longer lunch breaks, disappearing early, well you get the picture.

Where are we spending our time?
Research has shown that the sites with us spending the most time on are: Myspace, Yahoo, Msn, ebay (being the top 4) with an adult dating site in the top 20. Sites like Myspace , Facebook and Youtube have little/ no legitimate place in the world of professional networking. As for dating or chat room sites…well that goes without saying. Yes, all of these can be great places to spend our hobby or down time, but as business tools – no.

Networking –v- Social Contact sites
Here I am going to make the distinction between the two types of networking sites. Networking sites tend to have forums and ways of finding people that have skills or experiences we are looking for. The forums tend to me places where people can share thoughts, questions and solutions, but they do so in a way that does not encourage a ‘conversation’. These sites include HRZone, TrainingZone, CIPD, TrainerBase, Linkedin etc.. Sites that can help us solve a business problem have a legitimate place in our ‘toolkit’ of solutions and organisations should encourage their use to help remain competitive and cost effective.

Are Blogs – social networking sites?
Yes and no. For me there are two types of blog – those that use social networking sites, and those that are on an individual’s professional website. For me that latter is a professional too, the former is not. In this day and age of personal networking, we need to be careful about our image. What happens if we go for a job and someone ‘Google’s’ our name – and all they find is a blog with not very business like language on it?.

For this reason, I do not encourage blogs on social networking sites for professional networking or learning.

How do we stop this excessive behaviour?
The short answer is with difficulty. While on one hand we need to educate workers to the advantages of ‘professional’ networking, we need (for reasons of productivity) to prohibit social networking. Technology can help a lot here, by blocking access to these types of sites, but as many have found out as one gets blocked another ‘route’ is discovered. Equally, many mobile phones can access these sites now, so stopping employees using their mobile may become the next big HR challenge!

How are you going to encourage appropriate networking and discourage inappropriate networking… Off to answer that flashing little orange box in the bottom of my screen….

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Mike Morrison is Director of RapidBI, a company specialising in the development of high performing businesses and individuals.


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