A few years ago, back when we were young and naive and thought that social media was some passing fad that the young-uns would soon forget about, Serena Software created some waves by creating “Facebook Fridays”. Facebook Fridays was a quaint and old-world approach towards meeting employees’ desire to participate in social media activities by using Facebook for one hour every Friday. It’s worth looking at Serena’s approach now that a few years have passed.  It’s also worth looking at how far we’ve come in both the adoption of, and the understanding of the value to be gained, through social networking.

First a recap on Serena’s approach: In an effort to introduce a sense of team spirit within the company, CEO, Jeremy Burton decided that an hour every Friday afternoon would be dedicated to some kind of internal lovefest where employees were free to spend the time looking at the Facebook profiles of their colleagues. Employees were banned from spending time on any old Facebook profile; this time had to be dedicated to Serena employees only. Burton contended that “in this way staff learn more about each other, and it restores a sense of community and belonging.”

Burton was really excited about the possibilities that this initiative would offer.  His view was that “Facebook is the electronic Starbucks. You can sit and watch the world go by… just by looking at someone’s status update!”

It’s hard to know where to start dissecting this approach; it’s just so wrong on so many levels.

Control is (almost) gone.

Burton believed his approach was one of openness and employee autonomy; he even went so far as to say that “…you have to treat employees as the responsible adults they are and it’s all part of building an ethos of trust. The worst thing is to clamp down and ban things, people will only find ways around it.” Yes, you read that right, the guy who is trying to control employee’s use of social networking to one hour in the workweek, and then limit it entirely to employees, is claiming that by doing so he’s treating employees as adults – talk about offerings crumbs to the starving!

Let’s face it,  the days of centralized control within an organization are almost gone. Any organization that has workers whose roles require them to spend time on the web is crazy if it thinks it can control that web usage. Sure, you can lock down PC’s, give people corporate builds, and disallow downloads, but people have ways and means. All it takes is an SMS capable phone and people will Twitter.

But to fear this fact is to ignore the real benefits of the social web. In extolling the virtue of the electronic Starbucks, whilst at the same time trying to control the flavors of coffee people can have within the Starbucks, Burton missed the point entirely. The social web provides connection, meaning, context, and opportunity – don’t limit that, embrace it!

Choose the Right Tool for the Job

In using Facebook as some sort of quasi internal team building tool, Burton chose perhaps the least suitable tool for the job at hand. Sure, you can install a screw with a hammer, but it’s not the right tool for the job. Internal knowledge sharing and team building is a very valuable thing, but it’s something that happens beyond any sort of chronological framework, and it’s something that is enabled by internal tools. Even though Burton’s experiment was a few years ago, there’s a myriad of internal facing tools that would do the trick – from Jive to Yammer, from SocialCast to SharePoint.

Consumer Technologies are a Struggle

Employees are demanding the go-ahead to use “consumer” tools within an enterprise (or often using without permission). Organizations need to ensure employee productivity, privacy, and security while at the same time acknowledging shifting trends and leveraging the benefits that social brings. As a result, there are a number of organizations that are struggling to find a way through this quagmire.

It’s a difficult question but one that initiatives like Facebook Fridays does nothing to solve. We’ve come a long way since Serena’s nascent moves, but some would say not far enough. So we’re keen to hear how organizations out there are balancing the conflicting needs – what tools, rules, and approaches do you use in your situation?

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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