The Social Networking Tug-of-War

All around the world, organizations are scrambling to formulate policies to deal with social networking. Should our employees be allowed to use Facebook at work? Can we check out someone’s MySpace page before we hire them? Can we stop our sales manager from posting pictures of himself at a drinking festival wearing just a barrel and a cheeky grin?

There’s an equal air of excitement within marketing: It’s so hot right now, how can it help us sell more, find new customers, or stay closer in touch with the customers we have?

It’s having an impact. Companies who block Facebook or MySpace are finding themselves having to justify it. Many younger people have never been out of touch in their lives, and even eight-year-olds have mobile phones these days. It’s a logical extension to be connected to all of your friends.

Facebook as Job Perk

If only one or two of a peer group are not permitted to use Facebook at work, then they feel out of touch with the group. A job comes up where a peer works, and suddenly an employer is wondering why they just lost a useful employee.

No one ever admits at an exit interview that lack of access to Facebook was a key factor!

Unlikely? Well, search a job site for “Facebook” and “MySpace” and you’ll find companies are now starting to mention access to these sites as a perk of the job.

Talent acquisition professionals know the benefits of sites such as LinkedIn: personally, I have access to over five million people worldwide, along with plenty of information about them! I can search for people who went to university in South Australia but now live elsewhere. Or I can find people who have specific expertise. As a recruiter and an author, that’s gold.

With recruiters plundering social networks and employees spending all day talking to their friends, no wonder management feels uncomfortable.

Management response is schizophrenic. Let’s stop our people from accessing this stuff at work because we pay them to work and we don’t want them poached! Then, let’s use it to recruit for ourselves.

That’s dumb. You’re finding and recruiting people who enjoy free and easy access to social networking and offering an environment where it’s frowned upon.

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How can you help organizations embrace change without being swept along in the excitement?

  • Point out that mobile phone technology allows employees to circumvent any restrictions anyway, and allowing access from the PC at least offers some control.
  • Explain that an employee who feels trusted and respected is likely to waste less time than one who feels trapped by policy.
  • Argue that poaching is a process that starts with an employee not feeling that their current role is valued and respected.

There’s still the fear that allowing access to social networking sites at work will lower productivity and make staff more visible to poaching. So take baby steps.

Make suggestions for improvements: “If we allow some online social networking at work, it will improve the reach, scope, and effectiveness of our already-beneficial ERP” seems quite innocuous.

Eventually suggest something along the lines of “Here’s a way to make an already excellent system 10% more effective.”

As the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: make sure you have superb metrics in place to measure success and costs. IT departments can easily measure connection time on social sites. A policy that limits rather than prohibits is likely to be more respected.

Many companies are actually making social networking activity a compulsory part of the job, as it tells your customers you’re confident and connected. It also shows your competitors’ staff a glimpse into your great work environment.

It ceases to be a great idea if you treat employees like eighteenth-century serfs. The key here is the employee’s perception, and that’s the only one that matters.

Robert Godden is CEO of boutique recruitment agency in Australia, but he is basically a sourcer at heart. He enjoys finding people for sparkling new roles that are just being invented in cutting edge industries. When he's not sharing his opinions on recruiting and how we might all do that better, he's obsessed with tea and has a tiny internet TV show about people in social media.


11 Comments on “The Social Networking Tug-of-War

  1. I love the part about where employee poaching starts, as no one is forcefully removed from their position by a competing recruiter. I think it’s amusing that companies complain about their folks being poached, when they are asking their staffing teams to do the same thing to their competitors 🙂 It’s hypocritical.

    Excellent article!

  2. Robert, thanks for this timely article. Organizations forbidding access to Facebook, et al, is akin to ‘No personal calls’ back in the ’50’s and limiting people’s computer access in the ’80’s. It didn’t work. People are going to use technology as they see fit and we can’t set policies to stop them (unless of course there is a defined business need to put these policies in place, such as national security). Organizations that realize this and use technology as a means to benefit staff and make themselves more attractive to candidates are the ones that are going to succeed because these policies will lead candidates to believe the organization is a forward thinking one. (And for those of you who think I’m another entitlement-minded Millennial, I’m over 50.)

    And thanks for the proper use of the ‘proof of the pudding’ saying. Too many people say, ‘The proof is in the pudding’ but your citation is actually the correct one.

  3. Agree with your comments. I think that one thing that contributes to executive concern is the lack of guidelines. IBM has use the technology and culture of Enterprise 2.0 to develop a set of guidelines. The process may be as important as the result. More on my blog at;

    It is equally important to realize that Web 2.0 enabled changes require changes in culture as well as technology. Blogs, wikis, social networks etc. each have their place and their value. You need to be sure that your decision makers understand both the culture and technology changes.

    BTW McKinsey & Company now has two pages on Facebook. One for recruiting and one a general page. If it is appropriate for prestigious firm like this, it may be appropriate for yours. See What’s in Your [Corporate] Facebook? at

  4. In my opinion the evolution of the social networks will eventually find employers seeking out people who use these, over those who don’t care.

    Now, there’s a comment to set the cat amongst the pigeons isn’t it?

    Yes, as confrontational as that may seem, I believe strongly that quality, holistically capable employees, who are committed to work and their intellectual development, who are highly efficient are driven to use sites such as Facebook (and not only sites that are more professionally driven, such as LinkedIn).

    This is to connect with others who have interests in areas of their passionate commitment, and intellectual friendships that can arise from finding effective networks within current and expanded peer groups. They tend to shun some of the ‘silly’ stuff thereon, and cram in actions to increase valueable outputs, rather than waste time on these sites. They become another work tool.

    Employers who seek very smart staff need to move toward seeing SN’s as a pervasive change in the way business is to be done in the future. Limiting use of merely limits the retention of amazing brainpower. It reflects on recruitment and assessments of prospective staff and current team building/leadership/values analysis when said staff misuse time in extreme ways It also may indicate a lack of exploration of potential within by firms of the new techno-globe, rather than indicating the good or bad of the forum.

    In my opinion, I shall now gather up a shield to protect me from arrows shot my way. 🙂

    Karen from Creating Change
    downunder in Australia where we do, indeed, tend to see somethings upside-down.

  5. And doesn’t it make you wonder, will employers make their employees check their cell phones at the front door? I know the newest one in our house came all set up with Facebook access besides the fact, I’m sure texting could be considered disruptive as well.

    The continual exchange of information is truly beneficial to a company, they’ll get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if a recruiter tries to woo your employee away, maybe it’s time to take a look at how to make your company the stand out – where there’s no ‘the grass is always greener’ mentality.


  6. Karen – Regarding your comment:

    ‘ … over those who don’t care….’

    Count me in among ‘those that dont care’ about social networks.

    After sitting in on a number of lectures/seminars regarding LinkedIn including Shally Stecker’s seminar in San Antonio – which made me feel as if I’m a cave man for not using LinkedIn … I made it a goal to get more involved with what had been a dormant LinkedIn account last year.

    I regret doing so.

    Now that my ‘Profile’ is up for the world to see I receive 1-2 unsolicited ‘Sales Calls’ each and every day from what I believe is due to my increased LInkedIn presence.

    My junk email has increased almost two-fold from one to three junk emails a day to 6 or more (not bad after considering I get 100 emails each morning but still not something I want to i-n-c-r-e-a-s-e.

    Aside from the annoying volume of sales calls, I receive 1-3 ‘invitations’ from people I have never heard of … never spoke to … and who only know me because they ‘liked an article I wrote’.

    Not one of these people mind you, has ever bothered to pick up the phone and use the more human and preferred method of communicating (for the telephone is more intimate than email).

    Is there really any value of having 3 to 5,000 ‘online friends’ that don’t exist in the ‘Real World?’.

    My 16 year old son who uses his ‘cell phone’ as a ‘text messaging tool’ (rarely is he actually TALKING on his PHONE!!) and I got into a debate on this and he could make the argument for the value of ‘electronic virtual friends’ that have never had as much as one cup of coffee with me at the airport.

    Sure I can get nosey (if I I’m ever bored) and snoop around my network’s network and find out who ‘my friend’s friends’ are but if MY OWN friends list is dubious and suspect to begin with aren’t we just kidding one another by thinking the second degree or third degree is worth anything more?

    At Shally’s seminar in San Antonio he was lavished with ‘ooo’s and aaahhs’ when he mentioned Barack Obama is 3 degrees away. Whoopie doo. Now what?

    I enjoy learning about this stuff but not all of it is anything I find useful in REAL LIFE.

    This is silly and not one person, despite seminar after seminar, has convinced me there’s any value to this.

    If I want to introduce myself to someone I simply:
    1. Call the person
    2. Tell them who I am
    3. Tell them to look up ‘Frank Risalvato’ in Google to get an idea of my contributions to the search industry
    4. Leave a few industry-specific accomplishments

    I almost always receive a return call 90% of the time without the need for gimmicks, being Linked In or Out, or anything else.

  7. It’s possible that the companies which institute these and other restrictive/invasive policies are actually being quite clever in making their firms recruiter-proof by creating such unpleasant working conditions that only the terrified, desperate, or masochistic would wish to work there, and typically companies don’t pay to find and hire such people.



    Sometimes the best solution to morale problems is just to fire all of the unhappy people.


  8. Two things that never cease to amaze me with respect to this topic:

    1. We hear from a surprisingly large percentage of college students and recent graduates that they are not interested in working for organizations which prohibit them from using social networking sites during ‘work’ hours. They understand that those organizations are stuck in the old mentality that measures output by hours worked rather than by actual productivity and they want no part of those environments. They have choices and they know it. If organizations can’t or won’t adapt then they will lose the ability to recruit the best from Gen Y and those organizations will therefore perish. Not today and not tomorrow but within a decade or two.

    2. An incredibly high percentage of managers have no problem asking their employees to give up some of their personal time to keep up with email via their BlackBerry-type devices or laptops yet those same managers are astounded when those employees want to take back a small portion of that time by taking care of personal business. Incredibly hypocritical. Again, Gen Y is smart enough to know which organizations fall into this backward thinking mentality and those organizations will either adapt or perish.

  9. Companies won’t change to accomodate frivolous requests. They will simply relocate to another part of the world in an endless loop to lower costs and increase production. Who wins?

  10. THANK YOU FOR YOU POST ON LINKEDIN. I have become overwhelmed with the whole social network aspect of recruiting. I can’t find the time to network on all the sites people tell me I should be on. Not to mention, did I use my home email or work email and which password for which site? Am I missing out on the next best thing or just spinning my wheels trying to keep up?

    If anyone where to check my LinkedIn, you’ll notice that I have just a few connections and am rarely there. In my line of recruiting, it’s not a usable tool. I tailor my networking to find where my candidates are and they aren’t LinkedIn. Should I change jobs or my candidate profile change or I recruit for a different industry, then I’ll change my way of networking.

  11. You could count me as one of the ones that are a long term / ‘die hard’ recruiter. I believe hard work and the telephone are great tools in recruting and won’t be replaced any time soon. That said, a tool that lists LOTS of people, their titles, etc seems like a tremendous resource (and I’ve proven it with submittals and placements). Should I ignore it because it is somewhat new (no)? Should I use it as my primary resource (no)? A decade or more ago, recruiters routinely paid big money for lists of potential candidates (remember the ‘Blue Book’?). Now that same list is 1000 times as large and free. I know people that seem to think social networks are going to replace the old ways of recruiting (not any time soon if you want to be a top producer). On the other hand, for certain searches they are a great resource that I for one won’t ignore.

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