Question 1: Facebook

5 March, 2008

FacebookMelbourne’s GPO

Question 1: What tools are available to facilitate social learning in a professional membership environment, and how can they add value?

I’ve written previously about our team’s Facebook experiments. These have been going on for about 6 weeks now; so far it has not created a storm of interest. I decided to look a little closer to see if we were just missing the mark.

My first step in writing this post was to search for Facebook in my Google reader. I turned up all sorts of articles, mostly news pieces talking about the outrage over privacy issues a few months ago. Although there were a couple that caught my eye, in “Where’s the ‘Working’ in Social Networking?” Tom Davenport said:

“So let’s agree to keep social networking social. No more prattle about business applications or corporate use of these sites. Fun is fun, work is work. “Hooking up” does not have a business meaning.”

To contrast Charlene Li strongly argues that social networks are wildernesses that should be tapped into

“So don’t write off social networking sites as merely social playgrounds for the young. Your customers, prospects, and employees are exploring and extending their relationships there.”

Ross Dawson goes as far to say that closing access to Facebook could actually reduce productivity

“Deloitte Australia, for example, actively uses Facebook inside its organization, encouraging its staff to use the application to connect and keep in touch. It’s likely that Deloitte’s business performance would decrease rather than increase if it suddenly blocked Facebook”

These and many others out there talk about social networking sites and their enterprise applications in glowing terms but I wonder if the ‘free’ sites like Facebook really are effective for enterprise use.

I was chatting with some colleagues in office about how the Facebook group was going and one of them remarked that “it really is a jack of all trades but a master of none.” I think he was on the money, Facebook is very be effective for meeting people and establishing networks. It can also be used for sharing online links and resources and can work well for facilitating discussions. The thing is it does not execute those secondary purposes brilliantly. If you have already got your network established, Facebook is a group of tools that are not quite as good as the individual versions (for example, social bookmaking, discussion forums, blogs etc). What we really need to work out is what do we want to get out of this?

There are two answers to that and it depends on which audience I am thinking about. I’ll start with our internal team, our experiments so far have been great. Facebook has provided a nice central place for our remote team to gather and share ideas and resources. It has not been an instant hit, but with time and more experimenting I believe it can find a niche in our day to day work. It will not revolutionise how we work or communicate but it will provide an extra channel that will allow us to share ideas or challenges with our current practice.

If I look external to our members and customers, Jeremiah Owyang provides some great questions we really should be asking ourselves before jumping into Facebook too deeply. I think there is a place for us in social networking sites but we need to figure out if Facebook is the place and if it is, how we are going to use it to interact with our members.

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One Response to “Question 1: Facebook”

  1. Helen Mitchell Says:

    Hey Mick,

    I really like what you’re writing about, particularly the analysis of how to best use web 2.0 tools for business. There’s a lot of commentary around about what web 2.0 tool is good for which use. To me it’s like the cards are up in the air and the tools are jostling for position (and I am mixing metaphors 🙂 ).

    Each tool, I think, needs to serve a fundamental human need, and then for those humans to start to be connected by the need via the pathway that the tool creates.

    I agree with Facebook being ‘master of none’. It’s actually fairly limited in its capacity to truly share knowledge and then find it easily (e.g. I think folksonomy would be useful in FB). I have two FB profiles – one for work, one for personal, and I find FB useful primarily to understand what people in my circle are up to – I think the ‘status update’ section in the profile is good, e.g. clicking on the ‘friends’ link to scan everyone’s update at once. And of course, this relies on everyone updating their status…some do, some don’t. It all relies on participation.

    see you, Helen


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