Facebook Isn't (Necessarily) The Enemy

Mentioning the name "Facebook" in a business context will likely cause a round of eye-rolling and complaints about workers wasting valuable time on what is generally perceived as a leisure activity.

This view is so common that many companies go so far as to block Facebook from their Internet firewalls, with the intent of preventing their staff from Facebooking on company time - a step that will usually drive the more resourceful staff members to find alternate means of accessing Facebook on company time.

While it's true that Facebook certainly is used as a personal, recreational toy, there's no denying the fact that your staff will be on Facebook if they really want to, regardless of what steps you take to stop them. So instead of fighting it, why not consider using Facebook to your advantage?

Tip #1: Group Accountability

The interesting thing about Facebook is that it's difficult to do anything there that your friends won't see. If you're playing FarmVille or filling in "Which Twilight Character Are You?" quizzes, your friends will usually get a notification in their news feeds about it.

If everyone in your company is on Facebook and are friends with each other, they can all keep an eye on each other. Everyone is accountable to everyone else! If Jenny in Accounting is playing Mafia Wars at ten in the morning, everyone else can see it happening. Odds are, after being called out on it the first time by Martha in the next cubicle, Jenny will probably wait until lunch time before trying it again.

Tip #2: Social Calendar

A lot of companies these days have a vibrant social calendar, filled with company braais, birthday lunches and end-year functions. Using ordinary tools like email to arrange these things can be frustrating. Designing fancy PowerPoint invitations, managing RSVPs and sending out announcements to attendees can get pretty time-consuming for whoever is in charge of arranging it. And then there's the problem of sending out the photos afterwards... it's enough to crash your email server!

Fortunately this is a problem that Facebook has already solved. Facebook Events is a clean and simple tool designed specifically for this sort of thing. Invitations can be made up in a couple of minutes, attendee lists are managed right from the event page, changes and updates are automatically sent to everyone and there's even a special place for posting the photos!

The discussion board on the Facebook Events page provides an added dimension by giving you a place for staff members to discuss the event, helping to generate excitement beforehand, and hopefully enhancing the whole experience.

Tip #3: Extra Communication Tools

Above all else, Facebook is essentially a communication platform. It has a variety of tools built into it intended for an array of different functions:

  • Facebook Messages are a lot like emails, with the ability to attach links, images and videos, but using less bandwidth than an email ordinarily would because the attachment is only downloaded if the recipient actually decides to view it;
  • Facebook Groups allow you to create separate communities within Facebook that can be used for private discussions - you could create one for your company, one for each department and one for each team;
  • Facebook Chat is a basic Instant Messaging client built on an open standard, so it will work on most 3rd-party chat applications as well;
  • Your Wall is a place you can post thoughts, ideas and interesting sites you may have found on the web. This can be announcements, questions or links to news items relevant to your business;
  • Facebook Pages are like a mini-website for your brand within Facebook, with built-in communication tools that let you engage with your clients in the social space.
And so on. Facebook is also constantly updating, improving and revising their tools, so expect more useful stuff in the future.

Be Careful

One ongoing criticism of Facebook is about its privacy policies. Although that shouldn't scare you away, it's important to make sure your staff are using their privacy settings properly, so as to avoid embarrassing or awkward situations.

If you're going to be using Facebook as a tool for your business, I would strongly suggest that you encourage one or more of your staff to become experts on Facebook's privacy tools, and to train the rest of your staff on how to use them properly.

An important thing to keep in mind, especially when making a transition into the social networking space, is that this is an area where your staff have been doing all sorts of personal things up till now. They may have some embarrassing photos or other posts on their profiles that even they might not be aware of (you might have some too!). Try to keep an open mind about what you see there, but at the same time work with them to learn restraint and etiquette on how to behave properly and professionally on Facebook.

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